Northern Ireland ministers have today reinforced their message for people to work from home “where you can” in an effort to slow infection rates.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, ministers urged the public to do everything they can to “ensure we halt the spread of Covid as we approach Christmas”.
“Covid-19 has once again taken a firm grip across our society,” it read. “Community transmission of the virus is increasing. Hospital admissions are rising and modelling indicates that admissions will increase further in the coming weeks.
“The clear advice from public health experts is that an intervention is now required.”
Cases of Covid-19 coronavirus in Northern Ireland currently stand at 593.1 per 100,000 population. Wales follows with 531.2, while England is recording 414.6 cases. Scotland has the lowest Covid rate with 384.9 per 100,000 people.
Ministers said that if more people worked from home it would help reduce infections both inside and outside the workplace. But they stopped short of mandating employers to facilitate home working, saying they “recognise that this may present challenges in some work areas”.
Ministers said they were asking employees “to work from home where they can and advise employers to support this where possible”.
On Friday, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said: “No-one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation we are facing into.”
He told BBC News: “Unless we get this virus back under control… what we are looking at is potentially our hospital system being overwhelmed by mid-December.”
It was reported that Robin Swann, Northern Ireland health minister had said a previous decision to relax the working from home messaging should be reversed.
People who were working from home in Northern Ireland during the first wave of the pandemic “should be working from home” again, he has advised.
However, Northern Ireland government guidance still refers to a gradual return to workplaces: “You should continue to work from home where you can.
“Employers are encouraged to consider the risk within their workplace and begin planning a gradual return to the office, or other place of work, for employees.
“Where appropriate, following engagement with staff and trade unions, consideration should be given to the development of flexible working practices.
“Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home.
“Employers that require staff to come into the workplace must complete a mandatory risk assessment.
“Some employers may have introduced regular Covid-19 testing for employees as part of these measures.”