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Robin Swann has come under fire after it emerged he pushed for a six-month extension of the coronavirus legislation which allows measures such as draconian lockdowns and the use of face masks to be introduced.
witter exploded on Thursday night claiming the health minister had crossed the line and DUP MLA Paul Frew even accused the UUP minister of a “power grab”.
He expressed concern that Mr Swann had extended the legislation without executive approval, saying “emergency powers were not designed to be unlimited and require special and fresh renewal in the Assembly at each stage of the extension so far”.
Of course, as Mr Frew knows all too well, it is impossible for Mr Swann to follow this process due to his party’s refusal to enter a power-sharing government as the DUP continues its protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The political vacuum created by this stance is the same reason Mr Swann has given for his failure to ensure overworked and exhausted health workers get a pay rise at the same time as their UK counterparts – a major factor pushing health unions towards strike action line in the coming months.
Mr Swann is in an unenviable position – and now expects to receive letters from three DUP ministers opposing his decision to extend the Covid-19 legislation.
Yet when you think about it logically, the health service in Northern Ireland is heading for the abyss – we have the worst hospital waiting times in the history of the NHS, a demoralized workforce unable to keep patients safe, the growing threat of crippling strikes and a £450m budget deficit, which may force officials to make sweeping cuts that will further affect frontline services.
All this as we head into the winter months and all the other pressures this will bring on the NHS.
The system is barely functioning now, so the next wave of Covid will only exacerbate the problems that already haunt a broken healthcare system.
Edwin Poots, one of the DUP ministers writing to Mr Swann, is correct in his assessment that Covid-19 is not killing as many people as it once did, but it still poses a significant threat to our health service.
Like it or not, Covid-19 is a reality and pretending it doesn’t exist anymore isn’t going to help anyone.
The percentage of people testing positive in England and Wales rose in the week ending September 14, while the number of positive cases in Northern Ireland fell during the same week – from one in 55 during the week ending September, the latest Office for National Statistics shows. 5 to 1 in 80 in the week ending September 14th, it is only fair and proper to assume that the number of cases will rise again.
It follows that as numbers in the community grow, so do the number of people in the hospital, including the staff who care for them.
And while most Covid patients are in hospital for a reason other than the virus, the increase in their numbers, as well as infected staff having to isolate, is slowing things down.
It is incomprehensible, as one person suggested, that we should stop testing hospitalized patients for the virus and remove safeguards for the most vulnerable people who require hospital care.
This will only put an additional burden on the system that can be avoided and lives will be lost as a result.
Of course, there are some who might think the minister’s actions are curious given the recent declaration by the World Health Organization that the end of the pandemic is not in sight.
But the reality is that the welcome development has come with a caveat – that we must redouble our efforts to end this terrible pandemic that has destroyed so many lives.
So it would seem – according to the experts anyway – that doing nothing and hoping for the best is not an option for Mr Swann.
As he tried to point out in yesterday’s written statement to the Assembly, the extension of powers is a purely precautionary step and will allow for a quick response in the event of a particularly nasty variant of the virus.
The actual implementation of any measures, such as the reintroduction of face masks, which Mr Swann has reiterated he has no plans to do, would be seen as more contentious and therefore require more scrutiny than simply stating who will. to run the Ministry of Health at the time.
It’s worth recalling that the coronavirus legislation was last extended in March and the measures were only reduced, not increased, as a direct result of the impact of the virus.
The future trajectory of the pandemic is uncertain – despite positive signs that an end is in sight – but one thing we have learned about Covid-19 is its ability to change course quickly, and it is essential that we are able to respond in kind. Speed.
The extension of the coronavirus legislation is about more than just protecting against Covid-19, it is also about protecting our crumbling healthcare system and ensuring that it is not completely overwhelmed in the coming months and is able to provide for everyone.