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Bradshaw welcomes virus cluster data but warns more needs to be done on working from home

Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has welcomed publication of data associated with clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland, which confirmed they were mainly associated with workplace settings, including retail.

The information showed in a four-week period across January and February, there were 100 outbreaks and 258 clusters identified, mainly associated with workplace and retail settings. A smaller number were associated with other settings, including fast food or takeaway outlets.

“I have long been pushing for the publication of such data and we are a long way behind the Republic of Ireland in publishing it. Nevertheless, it is welcome to see some clarity,” said Ms Bradshaw.

“I would dispute somewhat the data show the ‘stay at home’ message is working. It is evident, even from data around traffic levels, more people are going to their workplace than was the case last April. This is why it is unsurprising workplaces are a significant area of transmission despite the ‘stay at home’ order. In fact they account for exactly half of all outbreaks and the majority of clusters and currently active outbreaks, whereas health and social care settings, previously identified as highest risk, account for just 16 per cent of overall outbreaks.

“It is therefore clear to me more should be being done to enable people to work at home at least until we are well through the vaccination programme. This applies particularly of course to staff who may be clinically vulnerable.

“I remain concerned contact tracing is not being done in such a way as to identify the ‘attack rate’ of the virus because there appears to be insufficient linkage of close contacts to cases in Northern Ireland contact tracing. I would welcome clarity on how that is now being done, so we can ensure we understand better exactly how the virus is behaving. This will become more important, not less so, as the vaccination programme nears completion because we will become ever more reliant on contact tracing to enable to safe re-opening of society.”