NI Executive urged to ‘unite’ for Covid-19 vaccine rollout

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Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
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By James Ward, PA

The Northern Ireland Executive has been called on to present a united front to deliver a mass Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken urged the First and Deputy First Ministers to work together and put the same message out.

The North's Minister of Health Robin Swann has said preparations for the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination programme from next month are “well under way”.

On Sunday, Mr Aiken called on members of the Executive to get behind the health minister and support the programme.

He said: “All of the executive should be working together and getting the same message out.

“Now is not the time for backbiting but what we must be doing is supporting (Robin Swann) because we must support our health service to get through this stage.”

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“I really do hope that the various vaccines, their efficacy will be proved and they will be given the approval for their rollout to start.”

He told BBC’s The View: “We need to be doing this to be able to make sure we can come out the other side and make sure our health service isn’t overwhelmed.”

Mr Aiken said the most important thing for the people of Northern Ireland to do is to support the health minister.

Poots email

The UUP leader also criticised DUP MLA Edwin Poots over an email he sent recently criticising the Department of Health’s response to Covid-19.

Mr Aiken said: “We’re well used to Edwin going off and undermining the overall health message.

“But all of the Executive together should be working on getting the same message out.

“The most important thing we need to be doing is for the people of Northern Ireland, to make sure that our health service is not overwhelmed.”

Mr Aiken was also critical of the Department of the Economy, who he accused of failing to provide people with pandemic supports.

He said: “We have known that there was likely to be a second wave. We have also known that there was going to be a considerable amount of money available to support our economy.

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“Quite frankly the Department of the Economy has failed considerably. The Department of the Economy has failed to get that money out the door to the people who need it most.”

There were three further deaths linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland and an additional 351 confirmed cases, according to figures from the Department of Health on Sunday.

The total number of deaths linked to the disease is edging towards the 1,000 mark, with a total of 986 as of Sunday.

The latest figures showed there are now 414 patients with coronavirus in hospitals, with 34 of those in intensive care units.

There are now 12 intensive care beds available in the health service, while overall hospital bed occupancy is at 93 per cent.

There have been 52,175 confirmed cases of the virus in the North since the pandemic began.

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