A new rapid test for Covid-19 is to be rolled out to all hospital emergency departments in the coming week.
The development was confirmed by the Health Minister Robin Swann during a media briefing and update.
He said the new nasal swab – describing it as a “major project” – would, within 12 minutes, determine whether or not someone has tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr Swann said: “It will enable emergency departments to very quickly identify patients who do not have Covid-19, enabling much faster decision-making on their care.”
The Minister also revealed that, after discussions with chief medical officers across the UK today (Wednesday), there would be moves to further restrict visiting at hospitals and Trust-operated sites.
Details of these changes – which are to be implemented on Friday – are due to be posted on Trust websites before then.
The Minister said the new visiting policy – which will not affect Hospices – “will be kept under constant review” and would not be in place any longer than necessary.
Mr Swann also praised the health service staff for their ongoing work under pressure.
He pointed to the fact that there are now 869 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, which was 277 more than this time last week.
And he added: “That rate of growth is wholly unsustainable. We have already heard from our Trusts the devastating impact this is having on our services.”
He said: “That means those who need an operation most will get it whereever there is capacity. Right now I would rather ask people to travel further for treatment than not get it at all.”
Minister Swann also hit out at ‘Covid-deniers’ and said they had been “discredited” and “their constant underminding has been nothing but an insult” to all the health staff working through this pandemic.
Turning to the current lockdown measures in place, he insisted there “are producing results”.
Said the Minister: “The R number for new cases is coming down in line with our objective of getting it below one again, but the challenge of course is to keep it there.
“The lockdown provisions will be kept under review by the Executive and we may well have some further challenges and decisions to make by early February.
“We will have to avoid easing restrictions too early or too widely. The situation in our hospitals is too precious for that.
“We are not through the worst of this yet. Nevertheless I want to conclude on a positive note. I want to thank the public across Northern Ireland. The vast majority are doing the right thing. You are abiding by the restrictions and doing your very best to fight back against Covid. Please keep it up.
“This is definitely not the time to ease up. We are all tired but I can assure you we will get there if we stick together and stick to the right plan. Let’s build on the progress we are currently making.”
Earlier in his update, Minister Swann said there was a long way to go in relation to vaccination but they had made a “very strong start” and it would be “scaled up rapidly as supplies allow”.
The Minister was speaking on a day when it was revealed there were 19 further Covid-related deaths reported by the Department of Health.
The total according to Wednesday’s daily dashboard now stands at 1,517.
There were also a further 1,145 positive cases confirmed. Of these 233 were in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area – the highest in Northern Ireland once again – with 123 in Newry, Mourne and Down District and 129 in Mid-Ulster.
A total of 3,482 were tested.
There are currently 869 patients with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland’s hospitals. Of that, 165 are in Craigavon Area Hospital, with 56 in Daisy Hill in Lurgan and 12 in Lurgan Hospital.
There are currently 56 people in intensive care with Covid-19.
There are 32 unoccupied beds in ICU.