By David Young, PA
A Stormont decision to lift coronavirus rules despite mounting pressures on the health service has been branded “complete madness” by medics.
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland council, said the relaxations planned for the end of the month would ultimately lead to more Covid-19 deaths.
He criticised the move as “stupidity” as he warned the health system in the region was facing its “worst crisis ever” this winter as it dealt with the “triple whammy” of Covid, winter pressures and spiralling waiting lists.
On October 31, nightclubs are due to reopen in Northern Ireland and social distancing rules that currently limit capacity in bars and restaurants will move from regulation to guidance.
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People will also be able to move freely around hospitality premises from that date, including being able to stand at the bar for a drink.
Indoor dancing will also resume across the hospitality sector at the end of the month.
Those decisions were taken at the start of the October and at an Executive meeting on Thursday ministers agreed to press ahead with the moves.
They also confirmed that night clubbers would not have to wear masks when dancing or in settings that involved eating or drinking.
Dr Black said : “If you open up the nightclubs to young people who aren’t vaccinated, they will increase the infection rate, that will increase admissions to hospital, that will increase mortality.”
He said the planned relaxations were “complete madness and stupidity”.
“We’ve eased the restrictions for that group of people in our community who have failed to become vaccinated,” he added.
“We have 25% of the 18 to 29 group non-vaccinated, 21% of the 30 to 39s, and what do we do with them? We say ‘you know what, you can go out, you can eat, you can drink, you can dance, forget about masks, forget about social distancing’.
“’You’re the group that are at highest risk, please go out and spread the infection, and then take it home to your granny’.
“That’s the medical professionals’ response to this.”
Dr Black added: “We’re being overwhelmed at the moment. This is not the time to ease restrictions, this is the time to turn to those people who aren’t vaccinated and say ‘you’re letting us down, you’re betraying your friends, your relatives and your granny, you’re out there, mixing, spreading the infection’.
“It’s seeping through into the older people and people are landing into hospital and dying because our young folk won’t get vaccinated – that’s not good enough.”
The BMA NI council chair continued: “We’re entering into the worst crisis ever – this winter is going to be much worse than last winter.
“Why? Because the triple whammy of Covid, the winter pressures, the waiting lists. And we have to tighten our belt, do the right thing and not indulge in wishful thinking.”
(Dr. Tom Black of the British Medical Association)