Vaccination of care home residents, staff completed in Northern Ireland

North records two more deaths, 241 new cases with 500,000 total vaccine doses administered

As of February 25th, 537,086 doses of a Covid vaccine has been administered. Photograph: Andrej Cukic/EPA

As of February 25th, 537,086 doses of a Covid vaccine has been administered. Photograph: Andrej Cukic/EPA

 

The vaccination of care home residents and staff has been completed in Northern Ireland, the North’s Department of Health announced on Friday.

Both first and second doses of the vaccine have been administered in care homes.

However, the Department said that while uptake had been high among both staff and residents, not everyone had taken up the opportunity to receive the vaccine.

The North’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Lourdad Geoghegan, said she expected the impact of the vaccination programme on care homes to be seen over the coming weeks and month, and there was currently “a very welcome reduction in care home outbreaks”.

But she warned that no vaccine was 100 per cent effective, and it was not yet clear if vaccinated people could still pass on the virus to others.

For that reason, she said, “I would encourage everyone to keep taking the same actions to protect yourself and others from infection – cutting down contacts, maintaining social distancing, washing hands thoroughly and often, and wearing a face covering.”

According to the latest figures from the Department, there are currently outbreaks of Covid-19 in 28 care homes in the North.

More than 500,000 people in Northern Ireland have so far received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

Police officers

The chairman of the representative body the Police Federation for Northern Ireland called on Friday for the North’s ministers to “step away” from a decision made by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and prioritise frontline police officers for vaccination.

Mark Lindsay was responding to the decision by the JCVI to prioritise age rather than occupation as the most effective way of delivering phase two of the vaccination rollout, which covers people aged 49 and under.

“Devolution is supposed to be about doing things differently and what’s in the best interests of all our people,” Mr Lindsay said.

“Day and daily, our officers are at significant risk of infection as they police the pandemic. The decision of the JCVI fails to recognise those risks and, in my view, is an insult to frontline officers and is baffling and unjustified,” he said.

The North’s Department of Health said on Friday that two more people with Covid-19 had died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,050. Another 241 people tested positive for the virus.

On Friday morning there were 335 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 36 were in intensive care.

Separate data, which is released each Friday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, showed the number of coronavirus-linked death recorded each week is continuing to fall.

The figures from Nisra showed there were 61 deaths linked to Covid-19 during the week ending February 19th, compared to 68 and 103 in the two weeks before.

The Nisra data provides a broader picture of the death toll reported by the Department, which focuses primarily on hospital deaths and includes only people who have tested positive for the virus.

Nisra’s figures are based on death certificates where Covid-19 has been recorded as a factor by a medical professional, whether or not there has been a positive tests for coronavirus.

It recorded 2,768 deaths as of February 19th, compared to 2,026 reported by the Department over the same period.

‘Politicking’

Meanwhile North’s Minister for Health has said “politicking” and disputes between Executive parties cost lives during the pandemic.

Robin Swann was reflecting on the devolved administration’s handling of Covid-19 ahead of the upcoming anniversary of Ireland’s first coronavirus case.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Swann said the “politicking has been damaging and challenging to the message that we’ve been trying to put out to the people of Northern Ireland at various times.”

Some of the decisions that were taken, he said, “if they had been taken at a different speed, at a different time, would have had a different direction and would have saved lives and would have made a difference.

“I have no doubt about that in regards to when we see certain reactions and certain decisions that saw an increase in positive Covid cases, which lead to hospitalisations and additional deaths.

“But those were challenges that were not just made in Northern Ireland, those were political challenges and political decisions that were made by every government as they combated Covid.”

Mr Swann, a Ulster Unionist MLA, did not specify which political parties or disputes he was referring to, but said there had been “a number of occasions, and I think they’re well documented, where political discussions and distractions that either delayed a decision being made, or cross community voting was taken in certain instances, as well, that had an impact, and an unfortunate impact on our reaction to Covid.”

High-profile examples of disagreements within the Executive include the heavy criticism faced by Sinn Féin from the other four parties in the Executive after its leadership was among thousands who attended the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June despite the restrictions in place at the time.

The DUP also faced criticism later in the year when it deployed a contentious voting mechanism to veto stricter lockdown measures proposed by Mr Swann.

Mr Swann acknowledged that all his executive colleagues wanted to “do the right thing” but he stressed the need for unity. “One of the strengths that we’ve had in Northern Ireland in combating Covid was when we were all standing on the same platform, the same political platform with the same message,” he said. – Additional reporting PA

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