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The Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust has urged the public not to become COVID complacent in the weeks and months ahead.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust’s Board, the organisation’s Chief Executive, Shane Devlin said the area’s COVID-19 case numbers are “moving in the right direction” but warned they must not return to the levels witnessed in January.

Mr Devlin told the meeting the number of COVID-19 positive patients across both Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area Hospitals has fallen considerably, from a “massive high” of 276 in early January to 85 as of February 24.

However, with the vaccination programme continuing at pace and talk turning to an easing of restrictions, the Trust’s Chief Executive stressed the importance of the public remaining cautious ahead of St Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day and the Easter weekend.

The Covid-19 testing facility at the Albert Basin in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The Covid-19 testing facility at the Albert Basin in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“There is no doubt Christmas was a major event for us,” said Mr Devlin. “It was really from that Christmas period that a major divergence between our Trust and Northern Ireland as a whole became clear.

“Looking ahead, we have some major events coming up and we all need to be very careful that we don’t repeat some of the activities we witnessed over Christmas.

“I have no cause and effect analysis to say it actually did but I think there is a strong connection between the fact everyone came together for Christmas and then 10 days later we had a considerable divergence from the regional position in terms of the numbers of our population having COVID-19.”

In late January Mr Devlin described Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area as the “epicentre” of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland and compared the number of people dying every day in the borough as a result of the virus to a “people carrier or mini-bus crashing and killing everyone inside”.

Mr Devlin’s call for the public to keep complying with the COVID-19 guidelines was underlined by the Trust’s Director Of Medical Services, Dr Maria O’Kane.

Dr O’Kane said the Trust is only starting to return to dealing with the number of  of COVID-19 it was treating in early December and warned the public to remember the virus is still present, even in the most familiar of settings.

Shane Devlin, CEO. Southern Trust.
Shane Devlin, CEO. Southern Trust.

“People can become complacent, if people look at those familiar to them they automatically think they don’t have COVID-19,” said Dr O’Kane.

“However, that is where you are most likely to get it, from a family member or someone you work closely with.

“It is really important to guard against complacency in all settings. Within some clusters, in and around Christmas and beyond, the R number was sitting as high as 10 or 12 among families.

“Depending on the gatherings they were in, some individuals were spreading COVID-19 to a huge number of other people at the time.”

Dr O’Kane also urged the public to be mindful that even when vaccinated they can still transmit COVID-19.

“We know there is a great sense of physiological safety that comes with getting vaccinated,” said Dr O’Kane.

“But we also know you can still carry the virus, even if you are vaccinated.

“If you have been vaccinated you may not suffer from severe symptoms but you will still be able to give it someone else, particularly with the new variants that are incredibly contagious. 

“We know there are three index cases of the South African variant within Northern Ireland and it doesn’t take particularly long before it spreads.

“We can not afford to be complacent about this.”

Adam Morton - Local Democracy Reporter

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