There will be no change to arrangements for free mass Covid-19 testing in Northern Ireland until there is clarity on what impact it would have on the spread of the virus, Minister for Health Robin Swann has said.
The minister also said he would not act to change working from home guidance ahead of receiving expert advice.
The Westminster government announced last week that free Covid tests will soon no longer be available for most people in England as part of the Living With Covid plan.
In response, Mr Swann said: “What has become clear. Having made the announcement, they seem now to be working out the detail, what that actually means. Is testing going to be available for care homes? Is it going to be available for healthcare workers free of charge?”
He added: "While other jurisdictions are still working out those details, I am not going to move until I see the clarity as to what effects that will have. But also get input from the Public Health Agency, from the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser as to what impact that would have on the spread of the virus should we reduce testing in certain capacities.
“There seems to be some across the water, but even political representatives here in Northern Ireland who are looking at testing as a restriction, rather than the mitigation. When testing was made more available we were using it so we could keep our schools open, so we could keep critical workplaces open, so we could make sure our health service was open as fully as possible.”
Mr Swann said research on working from home guidance is currently being carried out by the Executive Covid taskforce.
He said: “When I receive it I will make an assessment at that point in time. As we currently stand I haven’t received any advice or guidance that would make me see that there would be something that I would be rushing to do at this minute in time, but if that advice and guidance came that there was an ability to move, even to hybrid working arrangements, it is something I will consider.”
Mr Swann returned to Stormont on Thursday following a period of self-isolation after he contracted Covid-19.
“I don’t mind saying to everyone it did flatten me for a couple of days. But I am very grateful for the three vaccines I did have and no doubt I would have been much worse off if I hadn’t had them,” he said.
Meanwhile, two more people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.
Another 2,486 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the last 24-hour reporting period.
On Thursday morning there were 483 Covid-19 patients in hospital, five of whom were in intensive care.
In the Republic the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was on Thursday notified of 3,763 PCR-confirmed cases of the virus. In addition, 3,961 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
As of 8am, 610 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised in the State, of whom 55 were in ICU. – PA