Contact tracing could be in place in North for two years, says Foster

Contact tracing is crucial for coming out of restrictions. ‘It’s testing, tracing, isolating’

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said contact tracing in the North was being scaled up. Photograph: PA

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said contact tracing in the North was being scaled up. Photograph: PA

 

Northern Ireland may have contact tracing in place for up to two years in a bid to stay informed of where the virus is in the community, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Programme on Sunday Mrs Foster said contact tracing was vital to “make sure that we know where the virus is in our community”.

“It’s something that is forming the cornerstone of coming out of lockdown and being able to relax those regulations which we understand are very draconian,” she added.

She said a manual system of contact tracing was currently being used and it was sufficient to cope, and track the contacts of, the 30 or so new cases being reported each day.

“Contact tracing is very much about coming out of restrictions. It’s testing, tracing, isolating and then supporting those who we need to contact,” she said.

“We are scaling that up and will be able to scale it up and down,” she added.

As in the Republic, Northern Ireland has seen a significant proportion of deaths occur in nursing homes and other residential settings. In the North, more than half of coronavirus related deaths in the North occurred in care homes.

Mrs Foster said she rejected any suggestion that care homes in the North had received insufficient attention at the start of the pandemic.

The DUP leader said: “If we have a low number of deaths in the first place, then understandably you are going to have a concentration where there are old and vulnerable people.

“We are very, very conscious of the difficulties in care homes.

“We will look back and there will be plenty of time to look back at how we dealt with this virus.”

She said care home leaders will recognise what the Department of Health had done to help and said everyone was grappling with a novel virus.

“We are dealing with this without a rule book.”

She added that people in the North had “been very good” in sticking to the Covid-19 regulations. - PA / Agencies