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CMO | “To those who are not following the advice - wise up. This is far too important.”

The Northern Ireland Executive held it‘s latest COVID-19 briefing this afternoon - the first in a number of weeks.

The briefing was taken by Health Minister Robin Swann, alongside Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young, and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride.

Below are the main points from the briefing:

Health Minister Robin Swann

• We in Northern Ireland are at a critical juncture in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• “It’s part of my job as Health Minister to be worried, to plan ahead for all scenarios, and to work for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

• “I’m as worried today as I have been for some time. That’s because there are clear indications that COVID-19 is on the advance again in Northern Ireland. We’ve had 298 cases in the last 7 days. We are in danger of sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope. However it in not inevitable - we can still arrest that slide, but this requires decisive action from all of us.”

• Wash hands regularly.

Keeping distance from others.

Wearing face coverings in shops and other enclosed spaces.

Covering our noses and mouths when we sneeze or cough.

Downloading the StopCOVID NI app.

Getting tested and self-isolating if required.

“This is not complicated.”

• “We are all fed up and scunnered with COVID-19 and the way it has torn apart our daily lives”

• “This virus has not lost it’s energy or potency. It has not got tired of spreading. We cannot or should not give in to fatigue or complacency. COVID-19 won’t go away just because we are fed up with it, but we can challenge it by sticking together and looking after each other as we have done before.”

• The StopCOVID NI app is making a difference - downloads are increasing with almost 276,000 downloads. Already 76 notifications have been issued to users informing them that they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive.

• “Working together we can all continue to make a difference.”

• “The threat that stared us all in the face back in March, is still there, but this is not the time to blink.”

• There can be a time lag between infection and people becoming ill - ill enough to require hospital treatment.

• It is foolish to imagine that the virus would not spread from younger people to older and vulnerable members of our community.

• “A permanent total lockdown might keep COVID-19 rates very low but it would have massive repercussions for society and individuals. We have as always to maintain a delicate balance”

• “The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent further spread of the virus. This could include imposing localised restrictions, or introducing more general measures, or a combination of both.”

• This Thursday’s meeting of the Executive will have important decisions and options to consider.

Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Young

• “There has been a progressive increase in the transmission of the virus”

• Going back to the end of June/beginning of July, there were 3-4 cases of COVID per day. That number has progressively risen and over the last few days that number has been over 40 per day

• Some people say that is a consequence of increased testing. The number of tests conducted have increased almost by fourfold. However the number of positive cases have increased by around tenfold. The increase in testing is not sufficient to explain the increase in the current number of positive cases.

• At the beginning of July, around 0.3% of tests, or 1 in 300, were positive. Now we are consistently over 1% of tests being positive - around 1 in 100.

• Looking at the number of cases per head of population, then at present that is 16 per 100,000 of our population in the last 7 days, or 24 per 100,000 in the last 14 days. These figures are slightly higher than the rest of the UK or the Republic of Ireland on average, indicating the epidemic is increasing significantly in Northern Ireland.

• There is very considerable variation in cases if we look at local government districts. For example in Fermanagh and Omagh, the number of cases is less than 3 per 100,000 of the population for a 7 day period. In contrast, in Mid & East Antrim the numbers have been consistently over 50.

• In terms of hospital admissions, these have remained fairly low, nonetheless there has been a clear increased in first admissions with COVID. In the middle of July we were looking at 1-2 admissions per week, on average over the last week, the number has varied between 8 and 11.

• If cases continue to rise it is inevitable that hospital admissions and indeed deaths will rise as well in the future.

• A strong and striking increase in COVID cases since the beginning of July and that is something, if it continues, will cause significant problems for us in the next months.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride

• “For some that complacency has set in and there is a belief that the virus was not as bad as we previously thought.”

• “This virus doesn’t have a plan. It’s only plan is to spread and survive. Whether it does that and how successful it does that is in all our hands. It’s the actions that we take, the things we do, the advice we take, or the advice that we don’t take - it is all up to each and every one of us.”

• Now is not the time to lose our focus, lose our grip, and to lose the ground that we made and the lives that we have saved.

• As we enter the Autumn months, we will see the emergence of the seasonal flu. Undoubtedly there will be cases that will be difficult to distinguish between flu and COVID-19. We will also see individuals who will contract both. We should underestimate the risk of co-infection with both flu and COVID-19. Contracting both doubles the risk of complications and death.

• Additional flu vaccine has been purchased and the vaccination programme has been expanded to include all Year 8 students and some other individuals pre loudly ineligible for the seasonal flu vaccine. That will include offering the vaccine to family members of those who have been shielding.

• It is absolutely essential that we achieve as high an uptake as possible for the seasonal flu vaccine.

• “The prevention of COVID-19, the impact on our community and our health service, the impact on our family and friends, is down to all of us.”

• “I have this simple message to those who are not following the advice - wise up. This is far too important.”