Covid-19 death toll in NI set to be ‘less severe’ than 3,000 predicted

Coronavirus restrictions extended for another three weeks in Northern Ireland

A mental health awareness mural on the Falls Road in west Belfast. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

A mental health awareness mural on the Falls Road in west Belfast. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

 

As the Covid-19 restrictions were extended for another three weeks in Northern Ireland, Minister for Health Robin Swann said the predicted number of deaths in the North was now expected to be “less severe than we feared”.

At the start of April it was forecast, based on modelling, that 3,000 people would die from Covid-19 in the first wave of the pandemic in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Swann said the number of deaths in the first wave of the virus was now likely to be less than that figure.

“We cannot be certain of how this first wave will play out – no modelling can predict the future – but we can acknowledge that the unprecedented social distancing restrictions on all our lives are starting to make an impact,” he told the Northern Ireland Assembly’s ad-hoc Covid-19 committee.

Six more people died in the North from coronavirus, according to the latest figures published by the North’s Public Health Agency on Wednesday, bringing the total number of hospital fatalities in the North to 140.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed at their evening Stormont press conference that the restrictions would continue for at least another three weeks.

The Ministers were also asked about figures indicating that there were 6.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Ireland compared with 14.81 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK.

Ms Foster speculated that the difference could be down to “population density” between the two islands.

Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill said there would be time for more reflection on this issue “on the other side” of the crisis.

British army

There was controversy at the weekend when Ms O’Neill complained that Mr Swann had “unilaterally and without consultation with Executive colleagues requested limited assistance from the British army”.

At the press conference she said she wanted to put the matter “to bed”, that her issue was with how the information was communicated.

“My number one priority is to save lives, and whatever is required, including using the British army to save lives, and that is what I will not stand in the way of, and that is what I am here to do, I only have one objective,” she said.

Mr Swann said that in recent days he had activated British military aid “to redistribute medical equipment between hospitals across Northern Ireland” and had sought “technical advice and assistance to explore the potential for the development” of a temporary “Nightingale hospital” at the old Maze prison site.

Mr Swann also told MLAs that henceforth information about Covid-19 deaths at care homes as well as at hospitals would be included in his department’s weekly bulletins.

Ms O’Neill said she expected that these figures would be “sobering”.

‘How dare you?’

Mr Swann, when answering questions in the Assembly, took “great exception” to People before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll suggesting he wasn’t properly attentive to the plight of care home residents.

“Does he honestly believe that I or members of this house or members of my department don’t have people and family members in those care homes?” he asked. “So, how dare you, how dare you accuse us of not caring?”

Mr Swann also expressed concern about the “noise” coming from social media and elsewhere.

“We seem to have a lot of self-appointed experts commenting minute by minute,” he said. “We seem to have lot of people on Twitter who have secured doctorates in epidemiology in a few short weeks. They are entitled to their own opinions. They are not entitled to their own facts.”

Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds told the Assembly that up to 25,000 people could soon lose their jobs due to the economic slump in Northern Ireland as a result of the virus.