Coronavirus: Robin Swann asks government for four million fast tests

Coronavirus: Robin Swann asks government for four million fast tests

Stormont’s health minister has written to the government asking for four million fast-turnaround Covid-19 tests.

The tests would not have to be processed in a lab, making them suitable for mass testing.

Robin Swann made the request to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has yet to respond.

The Stormont executive is due to meet on Thursday to discuss proposals from Mr Swann aimed at restricting the spread of Covid-19 ahead of Christmas.

It will be the first full meeting of ministers since last week’s row over extending some regulations.

The Department of Health confirmed Mr Swann’s request for the fast tests, which would allow Northern Ireland’s entire population to be tested.

However, it is thought they would, if approved, more likely be used in a targeted way, by focusing on health workers or specific communities.

On Wednesday, Robin Swann suggested more measures should be introduced between now and the holiday period.

That was because the “single biggest priority” had to be forcing down rates of infection, he said.

Health officials have expressed concern that the R-number – or reproduction value – in Northern Ireland has risen again to around one.

Seven days exactly since executive relations looked to be at their lowest in months, tensions are still simmering.

Stormont sources say the parties are determined to avoid a repeat of last week – conscious of the impact on public messaging and opinion.

But that could change if consensus can’t be reached on the health minister’s proposals, which will likely include the prospect of more restrictions between now and the Christmas break.

It’s not clear what exactly Mr Swann will suggest, but pressure will be on the parties not to delay another decision, given how many businesses are hoping to reopen across Northern Ireland in the next few days.

It is not yet clear what exactly Mr Swann will propose to his ministerial colleagues, but they are likely to assess the latest modelling data and discuss a range of initiatives drawn up by health officials.

Last week saw four days of disagreement and heated exchanges within the executive, after Mr Swann called for the extension of all restrictions for two more weeks.

His proposals were backed by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance.

But the DUP, which opposed the recommendations, faced criticism for triggering a cross-community vote, effectively giving its ministers a veto – something the party has not ruled out deploying again.

It has argued that better mitigations should be put in place to allow businesses to reopen safely, as keeping parts of the economy closed will cause long-term damage as well.

Close-contact services, cafes and coffee shops are set to reopen this Friday but restrictions on pubs, restaurants and hotels are due to expire at midnight next Thursday.

Leave a Reply