NI’s R-number drops amid lockdown restrictions

Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster hold a joint press conference in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Credit: Presseye

The rate of coronavirus infection has fallen in Northern Ireland, but leaders say a tough few weeks lie ahead before it is reflected in terms of the pressure on the health service.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill held a joint press conference in Dungannon on Tuesday afternoon.

They acknowledged the “weariness” with the restrictions in place, but urged people to continue to “take personal responsibility and do the right thing”.

For those who say ‘But someone else is doing it’, as my mother used to say, if they put their hand in the fire, there is no need for you to follow it.

First Minister Arlene Foster

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Mrs Foster said.

“The vaccine is rolling out at a very good rate, we can see a route back to normality - but it will take us months to get there.”

Earlier, the head of the Covid-19 vaccine programme in Northern Ireland said almost 100,000 jabs have so far been administered since it started on 8 December.

Patricia Donnelly described a “very high” level of uptake for the most vulnerable group.

Phase one, involving older adults in care homes and care home workers, is 92% complete, with the remaining outstanding due to Covid outbreaks.

The over-80s group is currently being worked through via GP surgeries, as well as the health staff group, and the programme is about to enter phase two which is for over 75s.

According to Ms Donnelly, there are seven large vaccination sites across Northern Ireland that will operate seven days a week from 8am to 8pm and a large number of mobile teams as well.

People are being urged not to give up on the restrictions as the R-number is coming down. Credit: Presseye

Speaking in Dungannon, the First Minister expressed disappointment at those not adhering to the guidelines and legislation, noting that some businesses were open that should not be and some staff were still being asked to attend when they should be working from home.

“That’s quite a selfish spirit, I have to say, and it’s not going to help us to beat the virus and keep people safe,” Mrs Foster said.

Stressing the pressure on the healthcare system, the deputy First Minister added: “It’s something we all have an ability to do something about.”

We’re in for difficult days ahead. The vaccine programme is rolling out, but it’s going to take us some months before we get to the point where we have significant vaccinations right across society to make the difference that we all really look forward to.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Ms O'Neill also expressed concern at employers asking staff to come into and retailers not operating in line with the spirit of the restrictions.

“That’s not only unfair to the smaller retailers who are complying with the requirement to remain closed, but it also goes against all the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus right across the community,” she said.

“We have agreed to convene an urgent round-table meeting with the retail sector, including the larger retailers, supermarkets, supply chains, along with the councils and the head of the Health and Safety Executive.

“That will give us an opportunity to address the issues which we have identified as problems and give us the opportunity to reinforce that message again of the need to comply with the spirit and the letter of the restrictions.”