Health Minister extends flu vaccines to tens of thousands as Coronavirus cases rise 900% – Belfast Live

Health Minister Robin Swann says the Executive have a lot to consider on Thursday as new daily cases have risen by around 900% since June.

It was also revealed today that the flu vaccine will be offered to tens of thousands of people who were not previously eligible.

They include the families of those who were shielding and first form schoolchildren.

Addressing the public about Coronavirus for the first time since June he shared his sympathies in relation to the latest person lost.

He then added: “It is part of my job as health minister to be worried. I am as worried today as I have been for some time. There are clear indications that Covid-19 is on the advance again in Northern Ireland.

“We are sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope.”

He urged people to follow the simple measures to keep the disease at bay like washing hands and following social distancing and downloading the StopCOVIDNI app.

“This virus has not lost its energy or potency, it has not got tired of spreading. It won’t go away just because we are fed up with it.”

He said the app is making a difference and that 76 notifications have so far been sent to people to let them know they were near someone who has tested positive, after 276,000 downloads.

“Just five months ago I stood on this platform and warned of a public health nightmare if people didn’t follow public health advice,” he added.

He said that was avoided through collective action and that while it could have been much worse, hundreds of people still lost their lives.

Addressing the “doubters and critics”, he said Covid-19 does not check birth certificates and that there will be a lag between cases and hospital admission.

“The time is coming for the Executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to oppose further spread,” he added. This could mean local lockdowns and he said the Executive have a lot to consider on Thursday.

Chief Scientific Advisor Dr Ian Young said the “epidemic is increasing significantly in Northern Ireland”.

Fermanagh and Omagh is lowest, while he said the numbers are consistently high in Mid and East Antrim.

He also said there has been a clear increase in hospital admissions, to between 8 and 11 daily compared to 1-3 in July and that there were 3-4 cases per day in June and July – but this has progressively risen and now is over 40 daily.

“Some people say that is a consequence of increased testing,” he added.

Testing has increased four four but cases have increased 10-fold” he said in explanation.

He explained that 1 in 300 were positive, now it’s 1% – which is one in 100.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride shared his condolences with the family of the latest person who “lost their life”.

He asked for the same determination and resolve that helped NI get the virus under control.

“It’s easy to ignore the reality when it is a reality that we don’t want to live in and live through,” he added.

“This virus doesn’t have a plan. It’s only plan is to spread and to survive.”

He said the rate of infection is “heading in the wrong direction” and that now is “not the right time to lose our focus and our grip” against all the sacrifices that have been made.

“As we enter the Autumn months we will see the emergence of winter flu” which also causes winter pressures.

He said “we should not underestimate the risk of co infection with flu and Covid.

As a result a flu vaccination programme has been rolled out that will see an increase in those eligible for the flu vaccine – including first form school students and family of those who have been shiedling.

He said it will be delivered to ten of thousands in a short space of time.

“I urge everyone to do the right thing and get the vaccine if you are eligible.”

The vaccination programme officially begins on 1 October 2020, however it is likely that deliveries of the vaccine will arrive from the end of August enabling the programme to start in September once GPs have received their initial orders.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Given there is currently no vaccine to combat Covid-19, it is extremely important that we take all necessary measures to help reduce the risk of the flu circulating alongside Covid-19 during autumn and winter.

“I have asked my Department to increase the availability of the flu vaccine this year to additional groups of people in an effort to reduce health risks in individuals and reduce the pressure on our health and social care system.”

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said: “Flu can present with similar symptoms to Covid-19 and therefore has the potential to complicate the contact tracing and surveillance programme.  There is also emerging evidence that co-infection with Covid-19 and flu may lead to a more severe illness.  Reducing the pressure caused by seasonal flu will help preserve the capacity of the health and social care system to manage any future waves of Covid-19.”

The current groups eligible for a free flu vaccination are everyone aged 65 and over, pregnant women, those aged under 65 years of age in clinical “at risk” groups, all children aged 2 to 4, all primary school pupils, and frontline health and social care workers. 

Additional vaccine has been secured which will allow for the following groups to receive a free flu vaccination during the 2020/21 flu vaccination programme:

  • Household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the Covid-19 pandemic can request vaccination via their GP;
  • Staff in independent care homes; and
  • School children in year 8 i.e. those who will be in the first year of secondary school from September 2020. 

Subject to vaccine availability, the programme may be extended by December to include those in the 50-64 year old age group, starting with the oldest first. This extension will be phased to allow GP practices to prioritise those in a clinical at risk group.

Minister Swann added “Everyone who is eligible for a free flu vaccine should take this opportunity and help protect themselves and those around them this winter.”

“The vaccine will be available through the schools programme, from GPs, and through Trust vaccination schemes for staff.”

It follows the second death within a week, alongside a

He warned earlier today that a return to lockdown cannot be ruled out after stepped-up testing and contact tracing was identifying more  Covid-19  cases.

A further 41 positive cases of the virus have been recorded in the last 24 hours after 39 more diagnoses yesterday.

The growing number of new cases brings the total confirmed positive cases of the disease to 6,741 in Northern Ireland and 298 of those people have tested positive in the last seven days.

Social distancing restrictions have been significantly eased in recent weeks and Minister Swann said this may now have to be reexamined if the virus is not brought under control.

Antrim & Newtownabbey and Mid & East Antrim councils have both been particularly affected by surges, he said earlier.

Mid and East Antrim local government district recorded the greatest rise in the number of diagnoses over the last seven days, at 73.

However, most of the new cases over the last 24 hours were in Belfast.