Health Minister warns NI could face more Covid restrictions

The Health Minister has warned more coronavirus restrictions could be implemented in Northern Ireland as the Executive attempts to keep the R number below one.

Robin Swann revealed almost 5% of the population has been vaccinated - putting Northern Ireland fourth or fifth in the world per head of population.

However, he stressed that it remains crucial everyone still follows the regulations.

In the eye of the Covid-19 storm, both the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer warned Stormont’s health committee that the Covid variant that has been in the region since before Christmas is present in increasing amounts and has established a foothold in the Republic of Ireland.

Even those who are vaccinated need to stick by restrictions – it will be the spring before we see the impact of the vaccine. We must do all we can to protect our loved ones and the NHS.

Health Minister Robin Swann

The Health Minister was clear - tighter restrictions could be on the way.

“We are not putting all our eggs in the vaccine basket,” Mr Swann said.

“The vaccine is not going to be the sole answer straight away. We still have to follow the restrictions and we may have to introduce more restrictions to keep the R number below one.”

Revealing that 4.8% of the population has now received the vaccine, he added that there will be a more regular vaccine delivery pattern from next week which will help with the roll-out to priority groups.

MLAs said some health workers are unhappy with the delay in the first and second dose of the Pfzier vaccine in order to increase the number of people who can be given the jab - which the Chief Medical Officer says gives between 70% and 90% protection from the virus.

“This is actually about saving lives, this is about preventing severe disease and preventing hospitalisation,” Dr Michael McBride said.

The health committee heard that, while there is still sustained pressure on Northern Ireland’s health care system, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But, as the pandemic reaches its height, there remains no room for complacency.