Coronvirus outbreak ‘could see 15,000 deaths in NI’

Health Minister Robin Swann has warned an estimated 15,000 coronavirus deaths could be possible in Northern Ireland in a worst-case “nightmare” scenario, if people do not adhere to measures in place.

Minister Swann addressed a press conference on Thursday, along with First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and Education Minister Peter Weir.

Speaking at the briefing, he said: “In our modelling for worst-case scenario – and I’m not being alarmist here, folks, I’m being factual – at an 80% infection rate and 1% mortality, we could be talking in the region of 9,000 deaths,” he said.

“That is without the protections that we’ve put in place as an Executive and that’s without the personal steps that we’re asking individuals to take.”

Minister Swann added: “The scale of the surge coming towards us is of biblical proportion.”

He later confirmed that the figure could rise to 15,000.

It comes after the first death of a coronavirus patient was confirmed earlier.

Nine new cases of coronavirus have been identified in Northern Ireland, taking the total to 77.

According to the latest update from the Department of Health, the number of tests carried out stands at 1,646.

People with mild symptoms are not being tested, but advised to stay at home and self-isolate.

The person who died was being treated in the greater Belfast area and was older, with underlying health issues.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed their sympathies to the family.

“We know that this pandemic would inevitably cost precious lives, but the knowledge does not dim the pain,” Mrs Foster said.

Ms O’Neill added: “While we knew this day was coming, it doesn’t make it any easier for the wider society, but especially for the family.”

UK-wide, the number of people who have died after testing positive for Covid-19 has risen to 137.

On Thursday, a further 29 deaths were reported in England.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the number of virus-related deaths had doubled from three to six.

Two people have died in Wales.

In the Republic of Ireland, a third death of a coronavirus patient has been confirmed.

There have been 191 new cases, taking the total to 557.

Education Minister Peter Weir addressed Thursday’s press conference to elaborate on the closure of schools across Northern Ireland from Friday evening.

He confirmed that pupils will not sit GCSE, AS or A-level exams this summer and that robust plans will be put in place to allow grades to be awarded.

In a statement, the exams body CCEA said: “In these unprecedented circumstances, we recognise that the decisions we have to take will be challenging.

“We can assure everyone that we will be guided by examination experts and will ensure that our solution is fair and reliable.”

Consideration is also being given to the needs of children who are particularly vulnerable or whose parents are essential frontline workers, including healthcare workers, who may not be able to stay home to provide childcare.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know