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Shielding period from coronavirus could be more than 12 weeks, says virologist - Belfast Telegraph
Up to 80,000 people across Northern Ireland who are shielding from Covid-19 are likely to have to continue to follow the strict lockdown measures beyond the initial 12-week recommendation, it has been warned.
Up to 80,000 people across Northern Ireland who are shielding from Covid-19 are likely to have to continue to follow the strict lockdown measures beyond the initial 12-week recommendation, it has been warned. The Executive published its much-anticipated lockdown exit proposals, but those in the most at-risk groups will probably have to remain isolated in their homes "for the foreseeable future". Experts have warned it is highly unlikely that those who are shielding, which includes transplant and cancer patients and people living with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), will be able to follow the exit strategy at the same rate as the rest of the population. It means that even when family visits are permitted, anyone who is shielding will not be able to take part. Tens of thousands of people will also be unable to return to work, while children of people who are shielding may not be able to attend school, even if classes recommence. Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist from Queen's University Belfast, said the future for people who are shielding remains uncertain. He has called for more clarity to ensure that people do not put themselves at risk. "I can see the 12-week shielding period being extended," he said. "It's important to protect the vulnerable and that won't change for the foreseeable future. "I think one of the ways it is going to be possible to lift restrictions from people who are shielding is to really reduce the presence of the virus in the community. "It's hard to think how we could increase social distancing, so we need to increase testing and contact tracing in order to do that. "The guidance is very limited, there really should be more explanation around shielding and testing in particular. "The roadmap lacks details and we need more information about what is going to be happening moving forward." Dr Bamford said the ideal scenario would see people who are shielding being allowed out of their homes when a comprehensive testing and tracing policy is put in place identifying when areas are Covid-free. However, testing and contact tracing would identify any outbreaks and alert those who are shielding to the presence of the virus in their community, meaning that they could take additional precautions to keep themselves safe. This may include removing children from school or sending them to live elsewhere for the duration of an outbreak so they can continue to go to school when a parent is considered high risk. Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland council, said: "Until we have a reduced number of cases in the community, people who are shielding are still at risk. "As a result, the sensible thing to do is to continue to shield patients. "The R number would need to be considerably lower than it currently is at the moment (0.79), it would need to go lower than it was before we told patients to shield, and we need testing and contact tracing to allow us to track what is going on in the community." GPs across the UK were asked to identify the most at risk patients and send them letters telling them to shield for at least 12 weeks. Initially 40,000 people here were sent a letter. It was later extended to 80,000. Anyone who is shielding has been advised to completely isolate themselves from anyone who may be coming into contact with the virus, including anyone in their household such as spouses and children. This includes sleeping and eating in a separate room and using a different bathroom. The Department of Health was asked whether it has considered extending the length of time it asks people to shield or what measures will be put in place to protect the most at-risk if shielding is not continued beyond the original 12-week period. A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "There is currently no change to the advice contained in the shielding letter." Belfast Telegraph
Coronavirus updates: Only 'nuanced' changes for NI, says Arlene Foster, as PM prepares to outline UK road map out of lockdown - Belfast Telegraph
First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will be following what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to say when he outlines the UK's lockdown exit plan on Sunday evening, however she reiterated any changes to restrictions in Northern Ireland will be "nuanced".
First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will be following what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to say when he outlines the UK's lockdown exit plan on Sunday evening, however she reiterated any changes to restrictions in Northern Ireland will be "nuanced". Mrs Foster said the reproductive rate of the virus is around 0.8 - 0.9 in Northern Ireland which led to the lockdown regulations being extended until May 28. Speaking on Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday, she said: "We will be looking at some nuanced changes throughout that time and we will be looking to see what the Prime Minister has to say later today. "But in terms of the Northern Ireland public, I think it is important to continue to protect them and make sure the virus does not start spreading again in the community, that would cause damage in the community." She said a road map for the region to exit lockdown will be published this week to deal with the economic recovery and society's recovery. "It will look at how we move to the new normal in a graduated way," she said. On Saturday, the Department of Health confirmed a further four people have died in Northern Ireland after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the death toll in the region to 430. Belfast Telegraph
True scale of coronavirus tragedy emerges as new figures put NI deaths at 30% higher than first reported - Belfast Telegraph
The actual number of deaths linked to coronavirus in Northern Ireland remains 30% higher than initially reported, new data suggests.
The actual number of deaths linked to coronavirus in Northern Ireland remains 30% higher than initially reported, new data suggests. Eighteen more fatalities were announced by the Department of Health yesterday. Four occurred within the previous 24 hours. The other 14 were deaths confirmation of other cases. In total 365 people have now died here after testing positive for the virus. However, the actual number will be higher, because most deaths outside of hospital are not included. Data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) provides a more complete analysis. Yesterday it reported that as of eight days ago, the total death toll was approaching 400. Over 40% of the deaths took place in care homes. Nisra's latest bulletin shows:
- 393 deaths mentioning Covid-19 on a death certificate occurred in Northern Ireland up to April 24;
- The comparative number of deaths reported by the Department of Health by April 24 was 299 - a difference of 94 (31.4%);
- Of the 393 total deaths, 209 (53.2%) occurred in hospital, 158 (40.2%) occurred in care homes, three (0.8%) occurred in hospices and 23 (5.9%) occurred at residential addresses or another location;
- The proportion of Covid-19 deaths occurring in care homes has increased from 33.5% to 40.2% in one week;
- The 161 deaths in care homes and hospices involved 57 separate facilities.
Watch: Matt Hancock says case 'could be made' for easing lockdown earlier in Northern Ireland - Smash Newz
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “a case could be filed” to ease restrictions on blockade in Northern Ireland before other regions in the UK. r Hancock made comments to the Belfast Telegraph during the Downing Street briefing, but refused to say whether he …
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “a case could be filed” to ease restrictions on blockade in Northern Ireland before other regions in the UK. r Hancock made comments to the Belfast Telegraph during the Downing Street briefing, but refused to say whether he would support requests for an all-island approach to fight the pandemic. “The fact is that across the UK the level of the virus has been different in different parts of the country,” he said. We have seen (before) that in London the level has been much higher than in other parts of the country. “But the interesting thing is that the shape of the curve, the increase and therefore the fall of the newly started virus has been substantially the same across the country. This means that moving together was the right approach in the beginning. I see the case that could be done and obviously we respect the devolution agreement. “But in the end, if you look at the shape of the curve, it lowers R (the speed with which the virus spreads) and lowers the level of new cases, it happened in the UK together.” When asked about an all-island approach in dealing with Covid-19, he said: Of course, relations with the Republic are also important. We have good relations at the political level but also at the medical level in conversations with the Republic on the decisions they make. “But we have very intense conversations in the UK about times of change within the country.” Previously, Prime Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill were also questioned about an all-Ireland dimension to any exit strategy from the blockade. This followed an executive meeting this week with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Mrs Foster commented: “I think I have always been clear that this is not a political issue. This is a matter of saving lives. This has always been the modus operandi of the Executive, and certainly for me, in terms of the way from follow. He said it was “critically important” to share information with the Irish Republic, but Stormont would continue to receive advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Northern Ireland. He added: “It is necessary not only to have a north-south approach, to what is happening, but also an east-west approach. I have always believed that all relationships are important in relation to the fight against this virus – and that will continue to be my point of view. “ O’Neill added: “We talked about the exit and recovery and how we can move in similar times as the disease is obviously spreading similarly across the island … I think it’s just common sense, what happens in Derry and Donegal, they will have a mutual impact “I think it’s important that where we can, we actually work in tandem and work our way through this … as common as possible.” Belfast Telegraph
Northern Ireland MPs defend offer of extra £10,000 expenses for working from home - Belfast Telegraph
Northern Ireland MPs have defended an additional £10,000 allowance to help them work from home during the coronavirus epidemic.
Northern Ireland MPs have defended an additional £10,000 allowance to help them work from home during the coronavirus epidemic.The money, which can be spent on laptops and printers for members and their staff, or to pay for additional electricity, heating and phone bills, is in addition to the existing £26,000 a year that MPs can each claim to cover their office costs.New guidance published last month by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which polices the MPs' expenses regime, said this is "an uncertain and challenging time".It added: "Ipsa is committed to supporting MPs and their staff to carry on with their work as far as possible." The decision to offer all MPs an additional £10,000 allowance has drawn criticism. But local representatives told the Belfast Telegraph the money will only be used if absolutely necessary. DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the rise to expenses, which applies to all eight party members, was indicative of the exceptional circumstances. "Parliamentary authorities have made provision for MPs to avail of additional office costs to be incurred so that staff may continue to safely continue their work," he said. "It allows for the purchase of any additional IT equipment for staff to work from home or for telephone systems to be amended so that important queries from constituents can still be dealt with. "The support is not given directly to MPs, but enables them to purchase equipment from a central facility. "The increase is obviously an exceptional measure and it was a decision taken quickly by Ipsa to assist during this exceptional time of crisis." A spokeswoman for the SDLP, which has two MPs including party leader Colum Eastwood, said the cash will be a welcome boost if needed. "The allowance is designed to allow MPs and staff to work effectively from home," she said. "If we need to access it to enable us to provide an effective constituency service we will." Stephen Farry, who is the Alliance Party's only representative at Westminster, said he did not think he would need to access the additional coronavirus fund. "This is a decision taken independently from MPs and its purpose is to facilitate remote working," he said. "I am committed to ensuring Parliament can function and meet virtually during this crisis, with constructive scrutiny and accountability more important than ever. However, I don't anticipate drawing down much, if any, of this money." Sinn Fein, which has seven MPs who do not take their seats at Westminster, failed to respond to the Belfast Telegraph's request for comment last night. According to The Times, the extra funds will be available until March 2021 and come with a relaxation of the rules on evidence of purchases. In addition to increasing the money available for MPs' office costs, the authority is also suspending the 90-day limit for claiming costs and relaxing the requirements on producing evidence of money spent. The monthly credit limit on MPs' payment cards has been increased to £10,000 and the single transaction limit has been increased to £5,000. The authority says it will provide additional funding from the staff absence budget for workers who are unwell or cannot be in work. Responding to the announcement, Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said: "Casework has exploded (understandably too) so it's right that our offices remain open - remotely - at this time." But he added that it would have been better if Ipsa had done "an equipment loan scheme instead". And Conservative MP Julie Marson said: "No MP will see an extra penny of this in their bank accounts. "Ipsa increased the office budget to provide staff who primarily work from the office the ability to work from home, and to produce and distribute Covid-19 information." Ipsa was established in the wake of the 2009 MPs' expenses scandal. It sets and regulates MPs' salaries, pensions, business costs and expenses.