No foreign holidays this summer, warns North’s Minister of Health

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The North’s Minister of Health Robin Swann has warned against any prospect of people in Northern Ireland taking holidays abroad this summer.

Mr Swann also said that when possible he would be happy to see spare vaccination capacity being passed on to the Republic but that “first and foremost” his duty is to ensure people in Northern Ireland are vaccinated.

So far 694,863 people have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccines with 96,254 of them receiving two jabs.

Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccination programme, said at a press conference on Wednesday that Northern Ireland is on schedule to have vaccinated its over-18 adult population of 1.4 million by July, with the second doses scheduled for at least a month later. The North’s total population is about 1.8 million.

“The target of reaching all adult age groups is firmly within our sights,” said Dr Donnelly.

She made her prediction on a day when no Covid-19 deaths were reported in Northern Ireland.

The North’s chief medical officer Michael McBride said the programme was proceeding at an “extraordinary pace”, while emphasising that no vaccine offered “100 per cent protection”.

Warning that people must still observe the Covid-19 regulations, he said “remember we are not out of the woods just yet”.

Mr Swann, when asked did the current situation mean that foreign holidays “were out” for this summer, replied: “I would say very much so.”He added, however, that “it should be possible this calendar year” that people could take holidays in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland.

“When we can do it will be for the Executive to decide,” he said. “It will be at the right time and at the right pace. That’s how we’ve approached our response to managing Covid.”

Mr Swann said that in the “next number of weeks” a third vaccine, Moderna, should be coming on stream to provide additional capacity as part of the continuing rollout. Moreover, the new mass vaccination centre at the SSE Arena Belfast will open on Monday while more than 300 pharmacies are also to join in the vaccination programme.

‘Better times ahead’

Asked could this allow for spare vaccines to be passed to the Republic, Mr Swann replied that “once the UK comes into a position where it has surplus vaccines that we should consider supporting our neighbours and friends in the Irish Republic because we do share this island and it is important we do that. But as Minister of Health for Northern Ireland my priority is to vaccinate the population of Northern Ireland first and foremost,” he added.

Mr Swann said people must remain cautious. “Thanks to the vaccination programme we are optimistic of better times ahead: more freedoms, more normality. We cannot jeopardise that better future by being reckless now.”

Dr McBride also announced an easing of advice to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. He said where possible they should continue to work from home but if that were not the case they could return to the workplace provided their employers ensured social distancing at work and that they could travel safely to work.

Meanwhile, the North’s Department of Health has reported no Covid-19 deaths in its daily afternoon bulletin on Wednesday. This means Northern Ireland’s death toll since the start of the pandemic is 2,107.

There were 139 new confirmed cases of coronarvirus, bringing the total to 116,332.

Hospital bed occupancy is at 101 per cent. There are 154 patients receiving Covid-19 treatment in Northern Ireland hospitals with 14 in intensive care and 12 on ventilators.

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