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Chief scientific adviser ‘not happy’ at levels of adherence to Covid guidelines

Northern Ireland’s chief scientific adviser has said he is “not happy” at the current levels of adherence to public health advice.

Professor Ian Young said he wished he saw more people using face coverings when he is in public, emphasising they are proven to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

He was speaking as the first cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in Northern Ireland.

“I wish the level of adherence was better than it currently is, I am not happy when I go out into public and see the proportion of people who are wearing face coverings, for example in appropriate settings,” he said.

Two women wearing face masks in Belfast city centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We really need to get up to 80-90% of people in those settings to be using face coverings to get the benefit from them.”

Professor Young said in terms of Covid certification being rolled out, there is “very clear evidence that certification will reduce transmission of the virus despite what is sometimes heard and said, there are published papers showing that which are on the department’s evidence bank on the website”.

He urged: “Lets try and minimise the chances that we might require future restrictions.

“That’s not in anybody’s interests and the best way we can do that is to double down on the things that we currently should be doing and make sure as many people as possible get vaccinated.”

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride added: “We now know how to interrupt the transmission of this virus, the virus doesn’t transmit itself, we transmit it… it’s within all our hands as to how well we adhere to and follow the advice and keep to the regulations.

“There is definitely room for improvement and we owe to each other, we owe it to those who are more vulnerable in society, we owe it to parents, to grandparents and indeed we owe it to children and young people who have sacrificed so much and indeed across the many sectors who have sacrificed so much to not slip back.

“We have time now, we have time to double down on all those measures we know that work so that we could reduce the spread of Omicron into Northern Ireland and delay as long as we can community transmission, and actually give our hard pressed health care staff some breathing space, and give us some time, most importantly, as well to get the booster vaccinations rolled out further so we have protected more people.”

Both officials described the pandemic as being far from over.

Passengers on a bus in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA).

Professor Young said there is no guarantee that Omicron may turn out to be a milder illness.

“And even if Omicron is less severe, I’m afraid that there will be new letters and new variants in the months and years to come, so we are not at the end of Covid,” he said.

“At some point we will transition from it being a pandemic to it being endemic, a background disease in our population but I think there is quite a long way to go before we are there yet.”

Sir Michael added: “We all wish this was over, I think we’re seeing significant fatigue in the public, but it’s important than ever that we double down on our efforts but there is a long road to run in terms of this pandemic yet, and we will see significantly other mutations arising and we are just going to have to deal with those over time and when they occur.”