NI Nightingale hospital to close as Covid-19 cases decline

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Northern Ireland’s “Nightingale” hospital for treating Covid-19 patients is being temporarily stood down.

The facility at the City Hospital’s tower block treated 30 people in intensive care beds at the height of the first wave of virus infection, Stormont health minister Robin Swann said.

The country’s rate of infection stands at 0.79, meaning less than one person is catching it for every confirmed case.

Mr Swann added: “It was one of the key strategic tools for tackling Covid-19.

“We are not doing away with it, it will be there if we have need for it.”

Medics from around Northern Ireland were brought in to staff a dedicated hospital introduced in an effort to stop the health system from being overwhelmed.

Mr Swann added: “It is a testimony to the work that they did that we are able to bring it down.”

He said the decision was made based on the number of coronavirus cases the hospital was now dealing with.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said reducing the health service’s escalation level will ensure it is able to respond and redeploy to non-Covid-19 cases.

Doctors would be able to deal with urgent surgeries and treatments.

Dr McBride added: “We have to undertake that gradually and cautiously.”

Ministers have also agreed a range of measures aimed at tackling clusters of infection in care homes, including drafting in extra NHS nurses.

Two more deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have been recorded, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

Dr McBride warned: “This virus has not gone away. The peak we have seen is a peak we have created.”

He said it was because of the steps they had taken to limit contact that the virus’ spread had been reduced.

“That is why it is crucially important to keep that R number below one,” he added.

Mr Swann said ministers had decided not to set dates for easing the lockdown on social movement because his department and experts had pressed for it.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said she hopes to be “long past” the final step of the Executive’s plan for easing lockdown by December.

Frustration was expressed by some in the Northern Ireland business community when the five-step plan was announced without any time frame.

But Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill highlighted their determination to be led by the science, not the calendar, as they published their recovery blueprint on Tuesday.

Mrs Foster said: “This is a step-by-step process, it is a graduated process, and at all times we have to look at the prospect – and I hope it’s not something that will happen – that we may have to move backwards again if the R number goes above one.”

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