Mass vaccinations against Covid-19 will wind down in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks, Stormont Minister for Health Robin Swann has announced.
Insisting he was not trying to “provoke alarm or concern”, Mr Swann said the programme could not go on indefinitely, while large arenas and leisure centres “can’t be commandeered for vaccination use forever”.
Despite a new wave of infections, health service staff were also “much needed” back at normal work, he added.
“In the coming weeks, we will inevitably have to stand down aspects of the current programme,” said Mr Swann.
“We will maintain some provision for people who belatedly change their minds and decide they want a jab after all. But it won’t be as convenient or as widely accessible as it is currently.”
Mr Swann said the North would start “standing down” mass vaccination centres in August. First doses will end at the centres on July 31st.
“This will allow us to redeploy much-needed staff back into the health service.
“Also, the SSE Arena [in Belfast] and the leisure centres that we’ve been using can’t be commandeered for vaccination use forever.”
Mr Swann said the aim of offering all adults their first jab by July “has been achieved”.
Offered to children
Mr Swann was speaking just hours after announcing that vaccines would offered to children aged between 12 and 15 years with specific underlying health conditions, as well as to children aged 12 years and over who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.
Acknowledging the new surge in cases, he appealed to anyone who had not yet been vaccinated to get their jab while it remained easy and accessible.
“It is simply not possible to maintain a mass vaccination programme of this nature as a permanent feature of our health service. That is an unavoidable fact,” he said.
“I am not saying this to provoke alarm or concern. If you are worried about missing out on your jab, don’t be. The vaccination centres are waiting for you to walk in the door.”
The announcement of the wind-down came as more than 1,700 new cases of Covid 19 were reported in a single day in the North.
One more person has also died with the disease, bringing the total death toll since the pandemic began in Northern Ireland to 2,163.
In the Republic, another 1,071 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Monday.
The Department of Health said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 stood at 101, of whom 20 were in ICU.
In a statement, Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said: “While we continue to enjoy the good weather, we are unfortunately also continuing to see a rise in incidence of disease across all key indicators.”
The 14-day incidence is now the highest it has been since February 24th at 231 new cases per 100,000 people. The five-day average is 1,159 cases per day, the highest it has been since February 2nd, he said.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can have confidence in your vaccine and enjoy socialising and meeting with other vaccinated people indoors, so long as you continue to follow the basic public health precautions.
“If you are waiting to be fully vaccinated, then it is best to continue to socialise outdoors,” Dr Holohan said.
“If you have planned to attend a social event, and you experience symptoms of Covid-19, including symptoms of seasonal cold and flu such as headache, sore throat, runny nose; please stay at home, do not attend that event. This applies regardless of your vaccination status.
“Let your close contacts know how you feel, self-isolate and get tested. It can be tempting to defer getting a test but as soon as you experience symptoms, the best way to protect yourself and others is to arrange one straight away.”