Tracing of asymptomatic cases in North to begin this week

ireland
Robin Swann, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By Michael McHugh and David Young, PA

A range of contact tracing measures designed to find asymptomatic Covid-19 cases will be rolled out in the North this week, the Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said.

Testing of healthcare workers will begin to enable early identification and speedy isolation to reduce the risk of onward transmission.

Checking of students who do not display symptoms at Queen’s University is also scheduled to start this week using lateral flow devices, with plans for the wider population of students.

Mr Swann said: “The learning arising from these… will help us better understand how these new asymptomatic testing technologies can be implemented and extended more widely.”

Digital solutions to help warn people earlier are also being developed.

Since November 16th, contact tracing has been enhanced.

Mr Swann added: “This is a significant development to our approach to combating the virus and will ensure a strong focus on identifying the likely source of the cause of infection and identifying potential common exposure which can lead to clusters.”

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He told the Assembly he wanted to ensure the system was well-placed to deal with the pandemic in the coming months.

This will involve the development of a hybrid model, including digital solutions to deliver early messages to contacts and cases while allowing staff to deal with more complex cases, outbreaks and clusters.

Mr Swann has criticised two DUP ministers for failing to field Assembly questions on amendments to coronavirus regulations.

He said Education Minister Peter Weir and Economy Minister Diane Dodds had rejected his request to table the law changes to the chamber.

During the pandemic, MLAs have been asked to give retrospective approval for Covid-19 restrictions.

It involves a minister presenting the various regulations to the Assembly and fielding questions in a subsequent debate.

Mr Swann took the lead on those procedures on Monday on three amendments on the tourism and hospitality sectors and the wearing of face coverings on school buses.

“I feel that I must place on record my disappointment that neither the Minister for the Economy nor the Minister of Education agreed to my request for either or both of them to lead on the Assembly scrutiny of these changes,” he said.

“Changes, I may add, Mr Speaker, that were primarily only made following direct requests from those ministers on very specific and detailed amendments.”

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Mr Swann said if he had not tabled the regulations on Monday, the laws would have lapsed.

“Yet despite them not being my department’s amendments, I suspect members will have agreed that it was important such an outcome should be avoided,” he said.

“Whilst in their virtually identical responses to me, both felt that they were not accountable for these regulations, I have already expressed my belief that, during an unprecedented global public health crisis, there should be no space for ministers, or the Executive departments, working within silos.”

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