Call to build memorial for those who died from coronavirus in Northern Ireland

Covid-19 fatality rates North and South comparable, says NI health minister

The North’s Health Minister warned that the service faces considerable strain when coronavirus abates. File photograph: Reuters

The North’s Health Minister warned that the service faces considerable strain when coronavirus abates. File photograph: Reuters

 

A proposal to erect a permanent memorial to all those who died from Covid-19 has elicited a positive response from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

The proposal was made on Wednesday by Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan who told the Northern Assembly Executive scrutiny committee of his anguish over the death from the virus of a friend, a former accomplished GAA and soccer player.

He referred to his sadness that only ten people could attend the funeral.

“I would ask the Executive to give some thought to a permanent memorial to the people who have died so that they just don’t end up as statistics somewhere, so there is recognition given to their faces, as such,” said Mr Sheehan.

On a day when it was reported that five more people died from coronavirus in Northern Ireland Ms O’Neill said it was a “very good suggestion”.

She said, “I think you’re highlighting the real human tragedy of all of this, how we traditionally bury our dead and our normal, natural instinct to want to be surrounded by your family and your friends, people coming to pay their respects - everyone has been denied that right now.”

Ms Foster said there should be a discussion within society about how to mark this period of time. “It’s a very difficult time for people that are grieving because they can’t do the traditional things that we do here to grieve,” she said.

“We will have a large job of work to do in dealing with the aftermath of Covid-19 as well as trying to deal with - as we currently are - the response to Covid-19,” added Ms Foster.

The North’s Department of Health reported on Wednesday afternoon that five more people died from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland taking its total virus death tally to 494.

Decreasing rate

It also reported that 18 more people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 4,439.

So far 41,470 have been tested for the disease in Northern Ireland.

The North’s health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly health scrutiny committee that “thankfully the death rate has been decreasing”. He also said, based on comments from the respective chief medical officers (CMOs) Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Michael McBride, that the death rates North and South were similar, notwithstanding that some analysts have claimed the death rate in Northern Ireland is higher than in the Republic.

“In reality the CMOs on both sides of our Border have said the spread of the virus and the number of those who have sadly passed away remains comparable,” he said.

Mr Swann also warned that the North’s health service faces major strains when the coronavirus is abating. He said before Covid-19 waiting lists “were awful, they now will be frightening”.

He said that 4,950 residents and 4,816 workers in Northern Ireland care homes have been tested for Covid-19. Currently there are outbreaks at 70 Northern care homes with suspected outbreaks at 34 other homes.

On whether more could have been done to protect care home residents and staff Dr McBride said that “undoubtedly” there would lessons to learn and that was an issue that would be addressed.

Mr Swann referred to the speed with which the virus spread through Northern Ireland and through the world and the lack of knowledge at the beginning of the outbreak.

On assessing how care homes were catered for he added, “Let’s do it when we have fought through this battle.”

Mr Swann also said that a contact tracing programme to trace the spread of the virus in Northern Ireland is set to last for a year.