The Southern Health and Social Care Trust’s Chief Executive has warned that Northern Ireland “must not go backwards” in its ongoing battle with the virus.
Despite hospital admission rates falling and the numbers of people being vaccinated against Covid-19 increasing, Shane Devlin has urged the public to continue to follow the guidance, wash their hands, maintain social distancing and continue to wear a face mask.
Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Trust’s board, Mr Devlin thanked the organisation’s staff for their efforts over the past 12 months and urged the public to remember that the virus has not gone away and simply being vaccinated does not mean the war is won.
“I want to thank everyone who has been in the Trust delivering services over the past 12 months,” said Mr Devlin.
“It has changed peoples’ lives forever and where you see what we have been through, I have to thank everybody involved.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of our staff.
“I would also like to stress that while I am delighted with where we are today – rates are low and that is good, I still have huge apprehension about public behaviour and the potential impact that will have on the safety of our population.”
He continued: “We only have to look at what is currently happening in France, Germany and Italy at present. I appreciate our vaccination programme is really good but there will be people who won’t take the vaccine and it only has percentage of effectiveness.
“It is not an absolute guarantee that when you have the vaccine you won’t get Covid-19.
“We have to be realistic that likes of face coverings, social distancing and a sensible approach to life will need to continue.
“We have to plea to the public to protect themselves so that we can protect our community and our staff.
“I am really pleased with where we are now but we must do everything we can to make sure we do not go backwards.
“It is a plea to the public, we must not go backwards.”
The Trust’s director of medical services, Dr Maria O’Kane, echoed these comments and said there remains “no room for complacency” in the fight against Covid-19.
“There is absolutely no room for complacency we cannot take where we are now for granted,” said Dr O’Kane.
“The vaccination is not a replacement for all of the guidelines, it has to be an added part. It does not take much for this virus to spread like wildfire, particularly if there is another variant – which there is likely to be again soon.
“Outside of the immediate impact of those people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and their families, there are other people who cannot get services like their cancer surgery investigations and their hip operations as a result of the pressure on our system.
“This is really a heartfelt plea to the community to try and not be complacent and take this seriously.”