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Arlene Foster: "Every part of our society must adapt and learn to live with the virus"

Writing in today's News Letter, Party Leader Arlene Foster said:

Over the last number of days I have received many messages from people about the situation in Northern Ireland. Many are concerned about their health or that of their loved ones, many are anxious and in some cases despondent about their jobs and businesses and above everything people want to see an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and all the restrictions on their lives. I understand and share many of those concerns and worries. Indeed I believe every elected representative, regardless of party label, is trying to do the best they can so that we can get through this pandemic. However the reality is that there are no easy answers or solutions. The threat from covid-19 is real. Our hospitals, and sadly our cemeteries, testify to that. There are 289 people in hospitals across Northern Ireland being treated for the effects of the virus, with 32 in intensive care and 26 of those needing assistance to breath from a ventilator as of Tuesday evening. But equally we cannot keep closing the country down or forcing specific sectors to close in order to beat back this virus. That strategy, designed to buy time, is in reality a failure and will ultimately ensure total despair engulfs all of our people. We cannot allow that to happen. Every part of our society must adapt and learn to live with the virus. This pandemic has already cost too many lives, too many restrictions on our liberties and within our families and too many jobs, businesses and shattered dreams. The impact on mental health will be unquantifiable for some time to come. Our health service, already in need of reform prior to Covid-19, is struggling to cope with the burdens of the pandemic as well the need to treat everyday patients. The rising numbers of Covid-19 cases meant action was needed to protect our hospitals. Doing nothing was not an option. Around the Executive table, DUP Ministers have consistently pressed for the Department of Health to publish as much data as possible to help the public understand the pressures. Faced with such information we have sought to make balanced and proportionate decisions, taking into account the need to protect lives and livelihoods. We must weigh up the long-term impact of restrictions and the effect that poverty has upon health. With five parties around the Executive table, there will always be different approaches and opinions. The DUP articulated our opposition to another full lockdown. That is why we rejected a six-week lockdown. Importantly that is why we ensured that after four weeks the current restrictions cannot simply be extended without Executive approval. Looking forward, it is vital that plans and actions to take Northern Ireland through this pandemic are built on the foundation that this virus will be with us for some time ahead and society must be able to co-exist with it. Key to that must be increasing the capacity of our hospitals and the wider health service to deal with these increased pressures. For our part if we need support from other parts of the United Kingdom and, or, the military we will be prepared to support the Health Minister in asking for it. Central to a successful path forward too must be scaling up our test, trace and protect system; generating more detailed data from that and using that evidence to aid more precise and effective actions in the future. It is time to expand this tracing system and roll out a programme for weekly testing if necessary to ensure our key workers are able to be in hospitals, clinics, classrooms and other vital services. Getting workers back from isolation in the health service is vitally important. I want to see us work in partnership with those in sectors who have been hardest hit. Our best asset in Northern Ireland is our workforce and we cannot expect them to continue to take the hit in the months ahead. Just as it was possible to secure a return to schools it is possible to develop a sustainable model for our hospitality and close contact sectors so that they can re-open in a way that bolsters the trace and contact system and is designed to withstand the Covid environment that will exist in the period ahead. So we will work to support an increase in NHS capacity, we will support greater resources for the test and tracing system and we want to harness new testing technology to support our people in the months ahead. The challenges we all face at present are without comparison in modern time. Every person in Northern Ireland can make a difference in the days, weeks and months ahead. By observing the regulations and by following the public health messages of washing hands, wearing your mask and keeping your distance you will make a real difference in the next few weeks. Please help us to help you and together we can reignite the flame of hope across Northern Ireland.