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Covid round-up: Cases soar, hospital numbers drop as Executive agree hospitality funding package

There has been one Covid-related death reported in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours.

The total number of deaths now stands at 2,959 – 15 of which occurred in the last seven days.

The ABC Borough accounts for 401 of those deaths. There have been 220 in the NMD district, while Mid Ulster accounts for 276.

There have been a further 3,227 – four less than yesterday’s large spike – positive cases recorded from 7,253 people tested in the last 24 hours, according to the Department of Health’s latest daily dashboard update. There have been 17,248 positive cases in the last seven days.

There were 301 positive cases in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon. There were 306 cases in Newry, Mourne and Down – the third highest in NI – while Mid-Ulster recorded 196. Belfast – the highest in NI by a distance – recorded 676 positive cases.

There are 257 – down seven – patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland as a result of the virus, 34 – no change – of whom are in intensive care units.

A total of 201 Covid patients have been discharged in the last seven days while there have been 117 admissions during the same period.

Currently, there are 77 – down six – Covid patients in the Southern Trust area, 54 – down three – of whom are in Craigavon Area Hospital.

There are 10 ICU beds available across Northern Ireland.

Hospital occupancy in Northern Ireland currently stands at 101% – down 1%.

Meanwhile, the Executive has today agreed a £40 million support package for businesses in the hospitality sector.

Over 3,200 businesses will be eligible for a one-off grant under the Omicron Hospitality Payment. The amounts will be as follows:

  • £10,000 for businesses with a rateable value up to £15,000
  • £15,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,001 to £51,000
  • £20,000 for businesses with a rateable value over £51,000

Announcing the grants, the First Minister Paul Givan said: “Businesses in the hospitality sector are facing huge difficulty at what should be their busiest time of the year. The rise in Omicron cases is resulting in cancellations as people understandably exercise caution.

“Recognising businesses in the hospitality sector are likely to struggle over the coming weeks, the Executive is providing £40 million in one-off support grants.”

Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill said: “As an Executive, we have been listening to industry and recognise the losses the sector is experiencing. We hope this package, which will pay much greater amounts than the English scheme, will help them through these difficult circumstances.

“As an Executive we will do all we can to support the hospitality industry as we fight this pandemic together. It is also essential that the Westminster Government reintroduces the furlough scheme for workers as a matter of urgency.”

Eligible businesses include; restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, bistros, snack bars, nightclubs, pubs, social clubs and private members’ clubs (but not sporting clubhouses).

Land & Property Services will directly contact eligible businesses during the week commencing 10 January to ask them to confirm their details remain the same to enable payments to be made.

Finance Minister, Conor Murphy concluded: “Once again Land & Property Services, within my Department has stepped up to ensure support is provided to businesses. These one-off grants between £10,000 and £20,000 will provide much needed support to industry. The Omicron Hospitality Payment builds on the almost £1 billion support my department has provided to businesses here through rates relief and Covid grants.

“We will be continuing to work throughout the Christmas period to get this new grant scheme up and running as quickly as possible. Further details will be published as soon as possible.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Executive has provided extensive support with 29,000 businesses having benefitted from a two year rates holiday. The Draft Budget 2022-2025 proposes extending this for a further three months until the end of June 2022 for the sectors hardest hit. In addition, a freeze on the regional rate for the lifetime of the Budget is also proposed to keep rates as low as possible for businesses.

Information and updates on the Scheme are available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-omicron-hospitality-payment.

Elsewhere, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the roll-out of new and effective treatments for Covid-19 patients who are most at risk of serious illness.

The treatments, previously only available to hospitalised patients, are now authorised for use in non-hospitalised patients to reduce the risk of severe illness and death.

The use of these novel drug therapies for high risk patients identified in the community will also reduce the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital, thus helping to ease pressures on the health service over the challenging winter months.

The Minister said: “Access to these treatments is in addition to COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the most important intervention for protecting people from infection. Having additional measures is important now more than ever with the discovery of new variants of concern, including Omicron.

“These type of treatments are already used by the health service to treat patients who are hospitalised with severe COVID-19, and have been shown to improve survival and recovery time. The roll-out of these treatments to patients at high risk in the community is a significant milestone in our battle against COVID-19 and will provide an additional layer of support for the most vulnerable in society.’’

Two types of COVID-19 treatment are available at this time (others may become available later):

  • neutralising monoclonal antibodies (nMABs).This is usually administered as a single intravenous infusion delivered as an outpatient. .
  • oral antiviral medicine, currently molnupiravir (Lagevrio), which is usually taken in capsule form at home.

The Minister welcomed the announcement by the UK Government that it has signed two new contracts to secure millions more cutting-edge antiviral treatments for COVID-19.  The significant new deals have been accelerated following the emergence of the Omicron variant to protect vulnerable people over the coming months. The two new contracts are for 1.75m additional courses of molnupiravir (Lagevrio) and 2.5m additional courses of Paxlovid which is expected to be authorised early next year. Both treatments are expected to be effective against Omicron.

Minister Swann said: “Patients in Northern Ireland will benefit from these national procurement contracts. Our COVID-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it’s vital we further bolster our response to the virus by ensuring access to the world’s best treatments.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “These new treatments are designed to be used in the earliest stages of infection for high risk patients as soon as possible after a positive PCR test result has been received. Some will be delivered intravenously at hospital sites and others will be taken at home.

“An independent advisory group has advised on a range of health conditions which mean people might be more at risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19. This has been agreed by the Chief Medical Officers across the four nations. These patients may benefit from the new treatments due to their risk of developing severe disease.

“They include patients with certain immune conditions, or who have recently received treatment for cancer or are an organ transplant recipient. It’s vital that we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable patients and prevent them, as far as possible, from becoming very seriously ill with COVID-19.”

The new nMAB treatments are for people aged 12 and over and oral antivirals for people aged 18 and over, who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are at highest risk of getting seriously ill. This includes people who have:

  • Down’s syndrome
  • sickle cell disease
  • certain types of cancer
  • had chemotherapy in the last 3 months or chemotherapy grades B and C in the last 12 months
  • had radiotherapy in the last 6 months
  • patients with kidney disease (including CKD stage 4 and 5)
  • severe liver conditions
  • a condition or treatment that makes you more likely to get infections
  • HIV or AIDS
  • had an organ or stem cell transplant
  • a rare condition affecting the brain or nerves (including multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Huntington’s disease or myasthenia gravis)

Eligible patients who receive a positive PCR test result will receive a text message and a follow-up phone call from their local HSC Trust and will be assessed by a clinician from the Outpatient COVID-19 Treatment Services (OCTs) unit for their suitability for treatment.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said: ‘‘I am delighted that our most vulnerable people are to receive cutting-edge antiviral and antibody treatments for COVID-19. These medicines do not replace the important role of vaccines in protecting everyone, but significantly enhance our treatment options.”

Further information is available on nidirect: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/treatments-coronavirus-covid-19

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