Coronavirus: Contact tracing could be in place for two years
May. 31, 2020
The First Minister Arlene Foster has said that NI could have contact tracing for "quite some time, possibly even up to two years".
She was speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Programme on Sunday.
Northern Ireland was the first of the four UK administrations to roll out a contact tracing programme, as part of its plans to tackle coronavirus.
She said contact tracing was vital to "make sure that we know where the virus is in our community," she said.
"It's something that is forming the cornerstone of coming out of lockdown and being able to relax those regulations which we understand are very draconian," she added.
A manual system is currently being used and she told the programme it has been going well.
She said that about 30 cases a day are contacted and subsequently, those they have had contact with, are spoken to.
"Contact tracing is very much about coming out of restrictions. It's testing, tracing, isolating and then supporting those who we need to contact," she said.
"We are scaling that up and will be able to scale it up and down," she added.
Image caption Staff at Belfast's contact tracing centre, run by the Public Health Agency
More than half of coronavirus related deaths in NI have happened in care homes.
"We understood how vulnerable care home would be and we put in a lot of interventions but if you have a low number of deaths in the first place, you are going to have a concentration where there are older, vulnerable people," she said.
She said care home residents were "at the top" of the testing strategy but she said the executive was "conscious of the difficulties in care homes".
'Without a rulebook'
She rejected any suggestion NI care homes had not been dealt with well at the beginning of the crisis.
"If you speak to care home leaders they will recognise the Department of Health did work with them," she said,
She said coronavirus was something "no one knew how to handle at the time".
"It was novel and we had to deal with it without a rulebook," she said.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Both the Republic of Ireland and UK governments have been working on separate apps - but in NI the tracing is done via a phone call
"There will be plenty of time to look back but at the moment we need to fight the battle in care homes," she added.
On the issue of abortion, Mr Foster said she was "not embarrassed" that women in Britain who wanted an early termination had been able to use telemedicine and get pills sent to them but not women in Northern Ireland.
"Here in NI we value life and want to support women who find themselves in crisis pregnancy," she said.
"Unfortunately there are a lot of people who have not been able to access health acre in NI for non-covid situations," she added.
She said the health system must now be "switched on again".
Q&A: What is NI's contact tracing plan? 50,000 deaths in the UK’s coronavirus epidemic People shielding in England to be allowed outdoors
Mrs Foster also told the programme people in Northern Ireland have "been very good" in sticking to the Covid regulations.
Northern Ireland has a death rate of 26 per 100,000 people, compared to 46 per 100,000 in England and Wales and 51 per 100,000 in Scotland.
She said this was down to a number of factors including population density.
"Because we were a little behind in terms of transmission, lockdown measures came in sooner," she said.
"We have been very pleased by the way the population has abided by the regulations. They really have been very good," she added.