Covid-19: Northern Ireland ‘needs four-week lockdown’, says medic

Health service is facing ‘nightmare’ in January - British Medical Association NI chairman

A woman wearing a face mask leaves a shop in Belfast city centre as businesses across Northern Ireland reopened their doors following a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown last Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A woman wearing a face mask leaves a shop in Belfast city centre as businesses across Northern Ireland reopened their doors following a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown last Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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The “logical decision” is that Northern Ireland should go into another four weeks of lockdown now, the chairman of the Northern Ireland branch of the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

On a day when the North’s health department reported five more deaths and 419 new cases of Covid-19 Dr Tom Black of the BMA warned that Northern Ireland’s health service was facing into a “nightmare” in January due to coronavirus.

Northern Ireland came out of a seven-week period of restrictions on Friday (December 11th) – six of them with the hospitality sector virtually fully closed - but still the figures show high incidence of the virus.

There will be a further relaxation of the rules between December 23rd and 27th with easing of travel restrictions and up to three households allowed to gather together during those days.

Monday’s figures brought the North’s death toll to 1,129 and the total number of confirmed cases of the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic to 58,635.

Hospital bed occupancy is at 98 per cent. The number of patients being treated for Covid in Northern Ireland hospitals is 429 with 31 in intensive care and 24 on ventilators.

Dr Black said the situation was similar to Germany which was now in lockdown while in contrast in Northern Ireland the hospitality sector was allowed to reopen on Friday.

In normal circumstances the “logical decision” would be to have four more weeks of lockdown, Dr Black told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Monday.

The doctor acknowledged the “judgment of Solomon” difficulties which politicians faced in balancing the economy with health demands and allowing people enjoy Christmas.

“We have pragmatism, we have Christmas, we have politicians who want to be able to give Christmas to the public,” he said.

“There will be a balance there to be struck, between have we pushed our luck too far, do we need to step back and just bring in the lockdown that we would bring in at any other time of the year?”

Dr Black said that older people were becoming more vulnerable in this second wave.

Asked about January he added, “We have a nightmare ahead of us in the health service, there is no two ways about that. It is always the most difficult time of the year and we are in a pandemic. So, I can’t see any alternative to a very difficult situation in general practice, in A&E departments, in Covid wards, and in intensive therapy.”

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