Virus testing urged for PSNI officers amid fears over depleted workforce

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By Rebecca Black, PA

The Police Federation has called for officers in Northern Ireland to be tested for Covid-19 amid fears the spread of the virus could result in a "skeleton" workforce.

The representative body for Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers has also called for personal protection equipment to be made available for officers, including masks, gloves and scenes-of-crime white suits, as well as "spit and bite guards".

Earlier this month, PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by coronavirus.

These would include 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days, he added.

On Thursday, Mr Byrne briefed the board on the latest response planning, and pledged to "keep people safe and serve the community during this challenging time".

Hours later, his Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd told Stormont's justice committee that testing for police officers displaying possible mild symptoms of Covid-19 would provide reassurance and confidence.

There are currently around 200 coronavirus tests being conducted each day in the region. Only people being admitted to hospital and those in care settings are being routinely tested.

Plans were announced on Thursday to increase that number to 800 within the next 10 days and also to widen the scope of the testing to cover certain groups of healthcare workers.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay stressed the importance of testing for PSNI officers, saying it will allow many more to remain at work.

He said: "We are not as well-resourced as other parts of the UK. We do not have cadets. We do not have access to military, so, we are very much left on our own.

"It is therefore imperative that testing for police officers is brought in without any further delay. This will increase workforce resilience and will be a major factor in ensuring that our officers can remain at work.

"We could be left with a skeleton workforce trying to enforce legislation, trying to keep the lid on normal crime trends. It is very difficult to predict but I can assure the public that we will do our best. That's what we are here for."

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