General information on Coronavirus and its impact in NI
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a type of virus called coronavirus. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, everyone should be trying to follow social distancing measures as much as possible.
In this section you can find the latest information on COVID-19, including looking after yourself physically and mentally. You can also find specific guidance for different groups of people and changes to our services at the South Eastern Trust.
From Sunday 19 April the Department of Health will be releasing the daily statistics on coronavirus (COVID-19) which will be available at www.health-ni.gov.uk
Below are links to frequently asked questions:
Download the COVID-19 NI App on Google Play or search for Covid-19 NI on the Apple Store.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
If you have:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
- a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.
Everyone you live with must stay at home. You should arrange a test for COVID-19 here.
You can ring NHS 111 for information or advice and they will help you decide if you need to contact your GP. Calling your GP may be necessary if you have:
- an existing health condition;
- problems with your immune system;
- you feel you are not coping with your symptoms.
Do not attend your GP surgery or emergency department in person before calling ahead and speaking with someone.
If you have very serious symptoms or feel it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.
While waiting for your test or if you receive a positive diagnosis for COVID-19:
- you’ll need to stay at home for at least 7 days from when your symptoms started;
- after 7 days from when your symptoms started:
- if you have not had a high temperature for 48 hours, you no longer need to self-isolate;
- if you still have a high temperature, you need to self-isolate until your temperature has returned to normal for 48 hours.
- you do not need to self-isolate if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell/taste after 7 days, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
- if you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll need to stay at home and self-isolate also. If the person with symptoms tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in the household without symptoms will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms;
- however, if you develop symptoms during this 14-day period, you’ll need to stay at home for at least 7 days from the day your symptoms started (regardless of what day you are on in the original 14-day period). Follow the advice above on when to end self-isolation.
If you receive a negative diagnosis for COVID-19:
If you develop new or worsening symptoms, you should self-isolate and can arrange to be re-tested.
Preventing the spread of infection
Like seasonal flu, the same public health advice applies for COVID-19: if you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, throw it away carefully after use, and wash your hands.
The best way to prevent the spread of infections, including COVID-19, is good personal hygiene. This means washing your hands well and often, using soap and water and drying them with paper towels.
Coronavirus information leaflets and posters
- Coronavirus Public Information Downloads
- Coronavirus Advice Czechoslovakian
- Coronavirus Advice Hungarian Translation
- Coronavirus Advice Romanian Translation
- Coronavirus Advice Romani Translation
- Coronavirus Advice Hand Hygiene, Symptoms, Isolation (Easy Read format)
- Coronavirus Advice: Learning Disability (Easy Read format)
- Coronavirus Advice: British Sign Language (BSL) Video
- Coronavirus Advice: Irish Sign Language (ISL) Video
- Key contacts for support for blind and partially sighted people in NI
- Shopping Advice (Social Distancing)
Visitation during COVID-19
From Friday 7 May 2021, every patient in hospitals across Northern Ireland will be able to benefit from a daily visit with at least one person.
The Trust welcomes the relaxation of restrictions, announced by Health Minister Robin Swann for all healthcare settings, and we will now follow the regional guidance. However, we ask that you will be patient while we introduce controls that ensure congestion in communal/circulation areas does not impact negatively on the safety of patients / visitors / staff.
Visiting is by appointment only. Please contact the Ward Sister/Unit/Department Manager or Deputy to book all appointments. Visiting guidance will be reviewed again in four weeks.
- Patient / residents can nominate a maximum of two people to visit. Following a risk assessment at ward/unit level, one of the two nominated people will be permitted one daily visit throughout the patient’s stay in hospital.
- Virtual visiting remains available as this reduces the risk of spread of COVID-19.
- All people visiting / attending Health and Social Care settings will still be required to wear face coverings, (if exceptions apply please let the Ward Sister know it advance).
- Visitors must comply with all necessary precautions, for example, washing or sanitizing hands on entry to the area and on leaving. Avoiding visits if COVID-19 or other symptoms of infection have developed. Avoiding visits if they have been notified that they have in been contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
- Visiting and visitor numbers is dependent on the care environment whether bays or single rooms.
- You may be asked to leave if an emergency situation occurs and/or COVID-19 safety measures cannot be sufficiently maintained, due to congestion or other unforeseen circumstances.
- A chosen birth partner will be facilitated to accompany a pregnant woman to any pregnancy related appointments and ultrasound scans. This will also include induction, labour and up to three hours after birth. Some controls maybe in place at times to avoid congestion within maternity outpatients and ensure a covid safe environment.
- Two persons can accompany any child admitted to Children’s wards and the Neonatal Unit, (NNU) for the duration of the child’s/infant’s stay. Due to limited accommodation one parent can stay overnight with their child in the paediatric wards. Two parents are permitted to stay overnight in the NNU
- To ensure compliance with social distancing visitors should continue to avoid gathering in public spaces, outside ward area or canteens within the Trust.
- Visiting may be managed through a booking system to ensure that the number of visitors on the premises at any one time can be controlled, in advance of any return to a normal “visiting hours” approach; this will include determining the duration of each of the visits
- Special local provision can be made for end of life care or other specific circumstances. Please speak to the Ward Sister/Nurse in Charge or Department Manager.
- The Trust is required to maintain social distancing rules and to provide a COVID safe environment. Unfortunately, as a result visitors accompanying patients attending our Emergency Departments in the Lagan Valley and Ulster Hospitals will not be able to come into the Emergency Departments at this time. Exceptions will include those who are accompanying a vulnerable adult, sick child or patient being managed as end of life care.
Full guidance is available on the Department of Health’s website (www.health-ni.gov.uk/Covid-19-visiting-guidance).
Care Home Visting
Residents may have up to 2 visitors, 3 tmes a week. Please contact the care home to arrange. For more info click here.
Anyone showing or experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 or any other infection should not visit, even if these symptoms are mild and unconfirmed. In these circumstances the individual should remain at home and follow the latest public health advice on self-isolation and testing.
All people visiting/attending Health and Social Care Settings will be required to wear face coverings for the foreseeable future. Children under the age of 13 are exempt from wearing a face covering.
If you can, please arrange a ‘virtual visit’ with your relative or friend on their smartphone or tablet. All HSC sites have access to free WI-FI and our staff will help set this up on the patient’s device. Please be patient as our staff will have to prioritise clinical work and patient care. Staff will monitor the use of technology in order to ensure the privacy and dignity of patients in their care at all times.
Regarding people being cared for at home you should think carefully about social distancing and Stay at Home and restrict visiting to a minimum in order to protect your immediate and extended families, carer’s, relatives and friends.
Your loved one’s care is our priority and we will do the very best that we can for them. We appreciate this is a very worrying time and to ensure you are updated we are asking patients to nominate one family member (or carer) to contact us. This will help us ensure staff time is directed to delivering care to patients. If your loved one is not well enough or able to designate someone, we will discuss this with next of kin.
Frequently Asked Questions
These questions have been developed in response to the recent restrictions on visiting. If these do not answer your query then please contact the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse of the ward your relative is being cared for.
Are there any exceptions to who can visit?
The only exceptions are detailed in the link above. Please note policy will be followed strictly and children must not attend
Can you tell me more about when I shouldn’t visit in the areas that are still facilitating limited visiting:
You MUST Not Attend if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19:
For up to date symptoms please check: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus
Older people and people with an underlying health condition MUST Not Attend
Details are available at:- https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults
What should I keep in mind when I am a visitor?
Information for Visitors:
- All visitors must bring and wear a face covering.
- All visitors are asked to comply with staff instructions re the duration of your visit.
- All visitors will be required to wash their hands on arrival to the ward and on leaving the ward.
- Visitors are asked not to bring in perishable food such as fresh fruit.
- If you are visiting a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 you will be required to wear Personal Protective Equipment. This includes a surgical mask, apron and gloves. Staff will guide you in the correct procedure for putting on and taking off the equipment. Please note these can be uncomfortable to wear and any visitors must take this into consideration prior to visiting.
Should I bring in medicines for anyone I am visiting?
If this is needed you will be asked to bring in medicines. Please wait to be asked.
What does Virtual Visiting mean?
We are encouraging the use of technology for virtual visiting. It is important to note staff will follow the patients’ direction in facilitating this option. Virtual visiting will be by agreement with the patient and for a duration dictated by the patient. To protect the best interests of the patient in the event the patient becomes too upset or unwell this facility will no longer be available.
How will the patient connect to WI-FI?
All HSC sites have access to free WI-FI to assist in facilitating connecting via what’s app, face time etc and our staff will help set this up on the patient’s device to facilitate these types of contact but please be patient as our staff will have to prioritise clinical work and direct patient care.
Can I visit virtually at any time?
Please understand to ensure the privacy and dignity of other patients all organisations will be adhering to their guidance on the use of technology. This may result in calls being interrupted/ stopped during ward rounds or episodes of clinical care.
We would also ask that video calls are restricted to day time hours to ensure noise disruption is kept to a minimum overnight. There are no restrictions on messaging.
If I am unable to visit how can I get an update about my relative’s condition?
Patients will be asked to nominate a single member of their family (or carer) to be the designated person to contact us. The nominated person will be asked to contact the ward for an update and share this information with family members.
My relative is unable to nominate someone?
If your loved one is not well enough or able to designate someone, we will discuss this with the next of kin.
What should I do to prevent spread of infection when I am visiting?
Visitors must wear a face covering and ensure that they carry out full hand washing or use sanitizer on entry. They should be bare below the elbows, and have no jewellery except a flat wedding band. Hands should be washed or sanitizer used when leaving.
What about clean pyjamas/ nightwear/ toiletries for my relative?
Arrangements for bringing clean nightwear/ toiletries to patients can be agreed with the Ward Sister/ Charge Nurse. Please arrange this prior to visiting.
What about valuables?
As is usual practice we would encourage patients not to bring valuables into hospital including wearing Jewellery.
Can my relative who doesn’t have COVID-19 come out of the ward and meet me outside or in the hospital coffee shop?
In line with the governments advice on social distancing we would strongly advise against this. Whilst hospital catering facilities remain open these are to ensure staff can access hot food whilst on duty.
We still enable virtual visiting, and a daily update phone call to the patient’s next of kin.
In order to continue to offer an opportunity for friends and family to connect with their loved ones, we are making virtual visitation available to our patients via Zoom. Our IT teams have developed the guides below to help you connect with your loved ones.
For patients attending appointments
- Everyone attending the hospital must wear a face covering (you must bring this with you)
- Sanitise your hands.
- Follow social distancing measures.
- Attend your hospital appointment on your own (unless you require assistance)
- If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, do not enter until you have contacted the service you are attending to make specific arrangements.
People must not visit if they are feeling unwell, especially if they have a high temperature or new persistent cough. Children are also not permitted to visit.
Changes to appointments
Outpatient appointments in hospitals across the South Eastern Trust in the weeks commencing 11th and 18th January are now cancelled, with just a small number of exceptions, due to increasing Covid pressures. We will be contacting all patients directly affected, so please do not contact the hospital.
All Trusts in Northern Ireland are now entering what we expect will be our most challenging period since the pandemic began and we need to cancel outpatient appointments in order to release staff to care for Covid patients. This affects outpatient appointments in the Ulster Hospital, Lagan Valley Hospital, Downe Hospital, Bangor Hospital and Ards Hospital. As the Minister for Health recently said in the Assembly, normal business will be an impossibility.
We will be contacting all patients over the coming days to inform them of these cancellations, and we will be in contact in due course to reschedule appointments.
There are a number of exceptions to these cancellations. Appointments for the below areas will continue as planned, so please attend unless we contact you directly.
- McDermott Unit
- Breast Clinics
- Fracture Clinics (Ulster Hospital Only)
- Paediatric Clinics
- Renal Dialysis
- Catheterisation Laboratory
- Cardiac Investigations
- Early Pregnancy Clinics
- Maxillofacial Clinics
- Plastics Dressing Clinics
- Ambulatory Hubs
- Medical Day Case Unit
Healthcare Apps to help you during COVID-19
Health and Social Care (HSC) in NI in partnership with ORCHA (Organisation for Review of Care and Health Apps) has developed a library of high quality, convenient Apps to support health and social wellbeing during these difficult times.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted on us all, leading to unprecedented changes in our everyday lives. The restricted living conditions and daily challenges we face can lead to feelings of stress and other difficult emotions.
The Apps included in the library provide useful support and information on how to manage stress and improve wellbeing, sleep management, staying fit and nutrition.
You can access the Apps Library via your smart phone or PC at: – apps4healthcareni.hscni.net.
Vulnerable groups and those with underlying health conditions
- For the latest advice for older people and people with an underlying health condition click here.
- For the latest PHA advice for people with a learning disability click here. Advice from Mencap and other organisations can be found here.
- You can find advice for pregnant women and parents at www.ni-maternity.com or by clicking here. HSC staff who are pregnant can get more advice here.
This video has been made by the Psychological Services team at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust for parents and children who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19. It aims to help parents support their child to understand the loss and say goodbye when the usual traditions and funeral practices cannot take place. It is accompanied by a workbook, which is available (along with advice and practical guidance on grief and bereavement for adults) here.
Looking after your emotional and mental wellbeing
It’s important to take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
If you are concerned about your physical or emotional wellbeing, you should contact your GP.
If you are in emotional distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.
- Information on the free Stress Control classes and other training opportunities click here
- For a library of helpful healthcare apps click here
- Further useful leaflets can be found here
- For more information, resources and self-help guides to support for your mental health and emotional wellbeing at this time visit the COVID Wellbeing NI Hub
Click here to download or view a printable copy.