End of school parties held despite COVID-19 'impending catastrophe'

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By Michael McHugh, PA

End-of-school parties and anti-social behaviour by young people are being reported in Northern Ireland, despite the "impending catastrophe" of Covid-19, police have said.

The news that youngsters were flouting calls for social distancing came as a senior Belfast doctor warned huge numbers of patients will die during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students no longer in school after they were ordered to close risk passing the virus to more vulnerable groups like the elderly, so police urged party participants to consider the wellbeing of others and follow official guidance.

A respiratory consultant in the Ulster Hospital in Co Down, Dr Julia Courtney, said: "It is hard to actually convey just the enormity of the crisis that is looming for the NHS, and so for everyone, in the next few weeks.

"Huge numbers of people will die and the only thing that will have any impact on this impending catastrophe is slowing the spread of this virus.

"This is the week that the most people who are infected without knowing it will cause the virus to spread.

"What you do today will affect the intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the hospitals in the next two to three weeks.

"So please, please, please, stay at home if you can."

Production of ventilators by a company with a base in Ireland, Medtronic, has more than doubled amid a global shortage of the life-saving hospital equipment.

While most schools have been closed, some will be open for the children of key workers from Monday.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said: "Police are still receiving reports of anti-social behaviour and end-of-school parties.

"Please review the advice of the health minister (Robin Swann), consider the health of others and adhere to the social distance practices outlined by the health department."

A total of nine new cases of Covid-19 were revealed on Friday in Northern Ireland, bringing the overall tally to 86.

Pubs and other venues have closed as ministers urged social distancing and the Government pledged to underpin wages to massive numbers of staff affected.

Meanwhile, a senior trade unionist said all civil servants should be repaid money they lost during recent strike action in parity with measures taken to reimburse striking nurses.

Stormont deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said health workers who took industrial action earlier this year will be reimbursed as they battle Covid-19.

Nipsa general secretary Alison Millar said of the workers she represents: "Many of these staff are now classified as key workers and will ensure that many vital public services will continue to be delivered during the next weeks and months ahead.

"I am calling on the finance minister (Conor Murphy) and his Executive colleagues to now recognise the vital role that civil servants deliver and reimburse the pay deducted from Nipsa members who took strike action since 26 July 2019."

Nipsa members across the Northern Ireland civil service and related bodies took between three and six days of strike action since last July.

Ms Millar added: "This is clearly an issue of equality and equal treatment for all public sector workers."

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