Coronavirus: 271 further cases confirmed in the State

Response to Covid-19 in North cost £6.2bn, report finds

A further 271 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the State, according to the Department of Health on Tuesday.

There are 77 people in hospital, and 27 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the cost of responding to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland has risen to more than £6.2 billion (€7.2bn), according to a new Audit Office report.

The report by Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly estimated that the cost to Stormont departments of a range of measures to combat the impact of the pandemic was £3.9 billion, and the cost of Westminster schemes which apply to Northern Ireland was £2.3 billion at March 31st this year.

Mr Donnelly said that three-quarters of the total Stormont Executive spend was across three departments: £1.06 billion by the Department of Health working at the front line; £1.03 billion by the Department of Finance offering rate reliefs for individuals and businesses; and £0.95 billion by the Department of the Economy offering support to local businesses.

The Westminster expense includes £1.5 billion covering the Northern Ireland cost of the furlough scheme.

The audit report also says that ministerial directions, where individual ministers direct civil servants to proceed with expenditure despite concerns over value for money, were used more times during the pandemic than in the previous decade. There were used 27 times during the pandemic to approve spending decisions against the advice of senior civil servants. The report said: “All of the Ministerial Directions issued during this period related to the risk of poor value for money.

“This was generally because of the pace at which the schemes were designed and delivered, with limited opportunity to carry out the normal appraisal procedures and an increased risk of fraud and error.”

The report makes no assessment of the value for money of individual measures.

Mr Donnelly said the impact on the economy had been “profound” with a drop in economic output of around 10 per cent over 2020.

The auditor said he had now commenced separate reviews of three Covid-related expenditure schemes: the arrangements surrounding the supply of personal protective equipment in Northern Ireland; the provision of grants through the Small Business Grant Scheme; and the administration of the Sports Sustainability Grant Scheme.

No further coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours.

An additional 81 confirmed cases of the virus were reported by Stormont’s Department of Health on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning there were 15 confirmed Covid-19 inpatients in hospital in the North, none of whom were in intensive care.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have been tested for Covid-19 in Kilkeel after a number of potential cases of the variant first identified in India were detected.

On Monday, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said 15 cases of the virus had been found following testing in the area since Saturday.

The positive test results are being assessed to see whether the cases are of the Delta variant first identified in India.

Three mobile testing units are to remain in Kilkeel to accommodate testing of anyone over the age of five from within the identified areas who has yet to be tested.

The PHA is also working with partners to place an additional mobile testing unit at Kilkeel High School to test all pupils and staff as a precautionary measure, as a number of positive Covid-19 cases have been linked to the school.

Kilkeel became the focus of attention after what the PHA has described as a “small number of probable cases of the Delta variant (VOC-21APR-02, first detected in India)” were identified in the area.

Dr Bríd Farrell, assistant director of service development, safety and quality at the PHA, said the operation is a “precautionary measure to identify asymptomatic cases and help prevent community spread”.

“The more people who come forward for testing, the better chance we have of slowing the spread of the virus,” she said.

“All positive test results are now being assessed for a preliminary indication of whether a variant is present or not and then submitted for whole genome sequencing to confirm the type of variant.

“This process can take several days to complete.

“This is a timely reminder to everyone throughout Northern Ireland to continue to carry out all public health measures to help stop the spread of Covid-19.” – PA