Omicron’s response must be ‘proportionate’ as NI chief medical officer rules out cancellation of school Christmas carol events

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has ruled out canceling singing services at the school even as efforts intensify to contain Covid-19.

A series of measures are being put in place to protect Northern Ireland from the potential threat posed by the new Omicron variant, Professor Sir Michael McBride said all measures must be “proportionate”.

And in another message of hope after the health minister urged the public not to despair in light of the latest coronavirus mutation, the chief medical officer said: “All pandemics have an end.”

When asked when this would happen, Sir Michael said: ‘Well, all pandemics end when enough of the population is immune and preferably through vaccination.

“We are making tremendous progress, as I said – over three million doses of vaccine that weren’t invented at this time last year, so have no doubts, we are making progress.”

Sir Michael said it was not known how effective the current vaccines would be compared to the Omicron variant, but said “we have the capacity to modify the current vaccines” if necessary.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the new variant, Sir Michael said: “This is why we are taking this precautionary approach.

“You don’t have a chance to turn back time and it is best to act as a precaution until we know more about this worrying new variant.

“It is too early to say, I think it is unlikely that we will see a total exhaustion of the current vaccines, we could see the current vaccines partially less effective and hope that the impact will be minimal.

“But if we do see a very significant reduction, we have the capacity to develop a reworked vaccine.

“The most important thing, like the minister said, if you haven’t had your first dose, get your first dose of vaccine, get your second dose, get your booster, when you are eligible, keep doing things like wearing a face covering, ventilating the rooms, reducing your contact.

“Let’s all do what we know works and get this virus under control. “

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) wrote to the Education Minister on Friday asking him to ban a range of events, including Christmas carols, school staff meetings, parent-teacher meetings and events open to future students.

The letter from Maxine Murphy-Higgins, chair of the Education Union Group, ICTU, also asked Michelle McIlveen to allow all staff who previously protected to work from home.

Explaining the rationale for the request, Ms Murphy-Higgins said figures up to November 21 showed 1,072 school staff had contracted Covid-19 in the previous four weeks.

She continued, “Schools are under great pressure to find cover staff. In this context, it is important that all measures that can be taken to maintain education are taken.

“No one wants to be seen to cancel Christmas, but if strong action is not taken schools will not be able to provide face to face education to every child.”

Asked about his assessment of these measures, Sir Michael said: “I think we have to be very proportionate in terms of all the actions that we are advising at this time.

“I think we are all very aware of the very negative impact the last two years have had on our children, not only on their education but on their mental health and well-being, neither of us want to have an impact. most important.

“In terms of shielding, we are out of shielding and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable have been and should have been vaccinated.

“I think we just need to be proportionate, yes, proceed with caution, but at this point I wouldn’t suggest we take such a step.

“But I think every event that is organized, whether it’s in a school setting or elsewhere, needs to have a risk assessment so that we can mitigate and reduce the risk of infection as best we can.”

Earlier, Robin Swann addressed the Assembly, describing the official response to the Omicron variant and revealing that it is likely already in Northern Ireland.

“In light of the cases identified in England and Scotland, it is to be expected that there will already be cases of the variant in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Until we know more about the characteristics of the new variant, it is not acceptable to take risks with the health of our people, and we must act urgently.”

New measures that have been put in place in response include a requirement for all arrivals to Northern Ireland from countries not on the Red List, including those who are fully vaccinated, to self-isolate for 10 days unless they receive a negative PCR test.

Government advisers also recommended that Covid booster jabs be offered to everyone over 18 to help stop a potential wave caused by Omicron.

Mr Swann also called on his political colleagues to stand united in the face of the latest Covid-19 threat.

A number of DUP deputies have spoken out in particular in their opposition to the use of national vaccine passports as part of the response to Covid-19.

Last week, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said interventions should be “evidence-based, targeted and effective”.

He said: “Unfortunately, the Covid passport proposals are neither of those things.”

The DUP was asked if Mr. Lyons had revised his position in light of the Omicron variant but had not responded to a request for comment.