Covid-19: Northern Ireland plans mass vaccination programme

Arlene Foster says aim is to inoculate 100,000 health workers in three-week period

The overall seven-day Covid figure for Northern Ireland is 130 cases per 100,000 of population. Photograph: Lex van Lieshout/EPA

The overall seven-day Covid figure for Northern Ireland is 130 cases per 100,000 of population. Photograph: Lex van Lieshout/EPA

 

A special Northern Ireland taskforce is planning a mass vaccination of the Northern Ireland population against Covid-19, the North’s First Minister said on Thursday.

As the next intensified two-week period of lockdown in the North was set to begin on Friday, Ms Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill gave details of a rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.

Minister for Health Robin Swann also said the rollout would be a “major logistical exercise lasting many months, taking us to the middle of next year at least”.

“While I am cautious by nature, I am optimistic that vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against coronavirus,” he said.

Details of the plans were announced on a day when eight more coronavirus deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland, taking the total Covid-19 death toll there to 962.

There were also 442 new confirmed cases of the virus in the North, bringing the total number of confirmed cases there since the outbreak of the pandemic to 51,118.

Hospital bed occupancy in Northern Ireland is at 99 per cent. There are now 431 patients in Northern Ireland hospitals receiving Covid treatment, with 39 in intensive care and 33 on ventilators.

The overall seven-day Covid incidence for Northern Ireland is 130 cases per 100,000 of population.

Ms Foster in a Thursday evening briefing said the R rate of infection was now just below 1.

“I am glad to say we no longer have the highest level of incidences in the British Isles. We now sit below England and Wales. So, we have successfully slowed down the rising trend of infection rates,” she added.

Millions of doses

Ms Foster said that Northern Ireland, which has a population of about 1.8 million, will receive about 4 million doses of the vaccines, when they are authorised.

Rollout would be over a number of phases, starting with care home residents and staff, health and social care workers and people aged over 80.

Under-50s would receive the vaccines in the last phase.

It was proposed to have fixed mass vaccination sites to vaccinate all health workers. “The plan is that between 5,000 and 8,000 can be vaccinated per day to ensure that all 100,000 healthcare staff can be covered over a three-week period,” Ms Foster said.

She was noncommittal when asked would the British army be involved in the programme.

Ms O’Neill said it was important that the infrastructure in Northern Ireland was used in delivering this programme. “We have more than ample capability in order to be able to deliver this,” she said.

Appealing to people to continue to observe the coronavirus rules, Ms Foster said that since mid-November the PSNI had issued 480 fixed penalty notices for breaches of the regulations.

“460 of those were for partygoers in private homes. With a fine of £200 that is quite an expensive night out,” she said. “Those individuals have let us all down.”

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