A difficult winter lies ahead.
A difficult winter lies ahead.
A stark warning from the Chief Medical Officer was issued this week to Stormont’s Health Committee as cases continue to rise in Northern Ireland. Sir Michael McBride warned that a very difficult winter lies ahead for the health service with the return of other respiratory illnesses and the continued presence of Covid–19. He described the current hospital admissions as on par with winter 2020, and as the public shift to indoor settings for social gatherings as the cold weather sets in, the infection rate of the virus will be exacerbated. Health Minister Robin Swann, in response to the warning, set a target of 90% of all adults to be vaccinated as a means to mitigate against a rise in hospitalisations during the winter with officials believing this target could cut hospital admissions by 50%. The Department of Health have launched its ‘Big Jab Weekend’ which will be the final push from the Health Service before the mass vaccination centres are stood down at the end of the month. The focus of the vaccination programme will then turn to booster jabs for those who received a vaccine in the early days of the rollout. Despite the warnings, there has been no mention of the word ‘lockdown’, with commentators predicting that those days may well be over, not due to the risk dropping but simply based on the Government’s ability to finance such a move. Instead, the Executive will be meeting to further ease restrictions with the DUP pushing for a full return to normality by the end of the September, others within the Executive have been advocating a more cautious approach given the prevalence of the virus still in society. With the writing seemingly on the wall, the challenge now will be mitigating the impacts of winter on the health service and everyone in society will have to play their part.
In Dublin, the Government this week delayed a decision to re–open the remaining industries such as the live entertainment sector which is still impacted by restrictions. The Government based its decision on the high case numbers in Ireland along with the need to prioritise the reopening of schools in September. The Taoiseach has promised to publish a “comprehensive” roadmap for the final reopening on August 31. Martin stated that giving clarity to the sectors, such as the entertainment sector and the return to offices in city centre” would be a key part of the plan next week. The Government has already come under criticism for a lack of ambition to reopen the events and entertainment industry earlier in the summer and this was compiled this week when immunologist Prof Paul Moynagh stated he does not understand the reasons to continuously delay opening while vaccination rates are high. The Event Industry Alliance had called on the Government earlier on Thursday to allow Martin to sit on the subcommittee, after it expressed disappointment over the lack of progress in deciding a date for the return of live events. With the peak of the current wave not expected until September, it may be some time yet before concerts return.
Update on Vaccinations
• Northern Ireland’s ‘Big Jab Weekend’ will take place August 21–22 and will see mass vaccination centres again offer first–time walk in jabs to people of all age groups.
• Health Minister Robin Swann has set a 90% vaccination target for NI, stating that the number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid–19 would be cut by half if another 5% of adults in Northern Ireland were jabbed. Currently 86% of NI adults have received at least one dose.
Update on Education
• New guidance from the Department of Education has said schools should retain use or partial use of bubbles when the new term begins. That is despite the Executive deciding on 12 August that schools no longer had to teach children in bubbles.
• As many as 500 new teachers have not yet had their registrations fully processed by the General Teaching Council before the start of the new school term. Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has instructed GTCNI to fix this as a “matter of urgency.”
Update on Economy
• At 762,000, the number of pay–roll employees in Northern Ireland during July was 1.3% higher than before the pandemic, according to new figures release by NISRA. It is the second consecutive month where numbers surpassed March 2020 pre–Covid levels.
• Belfast’s continental Christmas market will return to City Hall following a year’s hiatus. Doors will open from 20 November through until 23 December.
Update on Health
• Sir Michael McBride, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, has warned NI faces a very difficult winter due to rising Covid cases and the return of other respiratory viruses.
• Chief scientific officer Professor Ian Young told Stormont’s Health Committee on Thursday that current estimates are that between 1–2% of the population in Northern Ireland have Covid–19.
• Covid pressures across NI hospitals comparable to ‘the middle of winter’, according to senior doctor, with cancer surgeries and other treatments facing cancellation as a result.
Update on Legacy
• The Northern Ireland Veterans Movement (NIVM), which represents 200,000 Army veterans who severed here, says it fully supports the government’s controversial plan to end all investigations and prosecutions related to the Troubles.
Update on Brexit
• Belfast City Council told port infrastructure in Belfast required for the Brexit Irish Sea Border will not be in place until 2023.
• During its latest Brexit Committee, a senior official said that the Brexit grace period on traded goods between GB and NI “will probably be extended.” It is currently in place until September 30.
Update on Health
• Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned that the Delta variant has allowed the virus to “regain a foothold” in Ireland. As of midnight Wednesday, the DOH reported 1,818 new cases of Covid, with 244 patients currently in hospital with the disease.
• The Republic’s abortion laws are to be reviewed three years after the landslide referendum vote to allow terminations under certain circumstances.
Update on Vaccines
• HSE is aiming to ‘close the gap’ between first and second Covid doses in the coming weeks. As of Thursday, just over 90% of the adult population in Ireland are partially vaccinated, with around 84% of adults fully vaccinated.
• After the vaccination programme extended to 12–15 year olds last week, 130,000 people aged between 12 and 15 have registered for the vaccine, with over 65,000 of those are already completed.
Update on Government
• On 26 August French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Dublin for a ‘short working visit’. Macron’s planned meeting with President Higgins will see the two discuss current EU and international issues, COVID–19 and Irish–French relations.
• The Government has faced further criticism that it has ‘let down’ the entertainment sector. The Cabinet Committee on Covid–19 met on Thursday to discuss the road map due to be announced on 31 August, which Micheál Martin describes as ‘comprehensive’.
Update on Employment
• Just over 153,000 people received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment this week. According to figures from the Department of Social Protection, this number has fallen by 70% since February.
• Leo Varadkar believes Ireland now has a real opportunity to normalise remote working as a cornerstone of working life. The Tánaiste said the Government will pass a law this year that will provide employees with a right to request remote working arrangements.
Update on Trade
• The number of Irish goods exported to Great Britain increased by nearly 70% in the last year, according to new figures published by the Central Statistics Office.
Update on Housing
• A new survey by KBC Bank Ireland reveals 70% of Irish consumers expect house prices to continue rising over the next three years. KBC chief said the 4% average annual increase envisaged is ‘likely only modestly above expectations for average earnings growth.’
• Ireland’s electricity grid is facing an increased prospect of blackouts this winter as emergency plans to import power generators have stalled. EirGrid has said Covid–19 has exacerbated the situation, with two gas generators in Cork and Dublin, which comprise 15% of conventional generation in the State, out of service since last winter pending repair.