General information on Coronavirus and its impact in NI
COVID-19 is an 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.
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.
You should TAKE A TEST.
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.
There are two main types of tests to check if you have COVID-19:
- a rapid lateral flow test
- a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test
Lateral flow tests come in packs that you can pick up from a pharmacy (only if you have no symptoms of COVID-19) or get delivered to your home and give rapid results within 30 minutes.
PCR tests were previously carried out at test sites and processed in a laboratory.
PCR testing is no longer recommended or available for people with symptoms and test sites have now closed.
PCR testing will still be available if you are advised by a healthcare professional to take a PCR test.
COVID-19 tests for people with symptoms
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, a new and persistent cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), however mild, you should self-isolate immediately and take a lateral flow test.
You may not have all of the symptoms, or your symptoms may be similar to the cold or flu. Symptoms may vary for different age groups or different variants of the virus.
If you are in a group who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments and you have symptoms you should follow this guidance:
COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms
It is no longer recommended to take a lateral flow test if you do not have symptoms.
In Northern Ireland, if you do not have symptoms, you can only order lateral flow tests if:
- you may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments and need lateral flow tests in case you become symptomatic
- you are a carer who provides close personal care for someone who is at higher risk if they contract COVID-19
- you are working or visiting high risk or vulnerable settings, such as care homes and hospital environments
- your GP or a healthcare professional asks you to take a test
- you have COVID-19 and want to check if your test result is still positive after day five
Lateral flow testing
How to get lateral flow tests
You can order free lateral flow tests online(external link opens in a new window / tab) or you can collect them for free from participating pharmacies.
You should not collect tests from a pharmacy if you have symptoms. You should order online or ask someone who does not have symptoms to collect the lateral flow tests on your behalf.
If you cannot use the online or pharmacy collect service, call 119 to order a lateral flow test (free from mobiles and landlines). Lines are open every day from 7.00 am to 11.00 pm.
If you may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments, because you have one of the conditions that puts you at the very highest risk of illness should you catch COVID-19, you need to report the result if it is positive, to be assessed for a COVID-19 treatment.
If your lateral flow test is positive, you should self-isolate immediately.
How to take a lateral flow test
There are several different types of lateral flow devices.
It is important that you follow the instructions in your test kit, as some tests are nasal only tests, meaning a throat swab is not required.
Follow the step-by-step instructions in your test kit to complete the test.
Videos and large print instructions are also available at:
- How to do a coronavirus (COVID-19) rapid lateral flow test at home(external link opens in a new window / tab)
If you are blind or visually impaired, you can download the free Be My Eyes app(external link opens in a new window / tab) to get help from trained NHS Test and Trace staff.
Reporting your lateral flow test results
You should report your test result within 24 hours of taking it at the following link:
It’s important that you report every lateral flow test result, whether it is negative, positive or void, and receive a result confirmation notification.
This helps the health service track the spread of COVID-19 and manage cases more effectively.
If you are in a group who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments, because you have one of the conditions that puts you at the very highest risk of illness should you catch COVID-19, you need to report the result if it is positive to be assessed for a COVID-19 treatment.
If you cannot use the online service to report your lateral flow test result, call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines). Lines are open every day, from 7.00 am to 11.00 pm.
If you have been given a unique organisation number (UON) when accessing lateral flow tests, you should enter it when reporting your result. Using the UON helps to identify the number of cases related to a workplace or event.
If your lateral flow test is positive you should self-isolate immediately:
If you have reported your positive lateral flow test result, the Public Health Agency’s contact tracing service will contact you with public health advice for you and your household members to help protect those most at risk and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If your lateral flow test result is negative, you do not need to self-isolate. It is likely that you did not have COVID-19 at the time you took the test.
However, a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19. You should still follow the guidance to stay safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If the test result is void, this means that the test has not run correctly. You need to take another lateral flow test. Do not reuse anything from the first test.
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)
From Monday 7 March 2022 women have been able to be accompanied by one person (partner or birth partner) to all appointments in Maternity Outpatients Department. This arrangement is in place with the caveat that if the area becomes congested, partners/birth partners may be asked to wait in either reception or in their car and will be called forward to attend with the woman when they are about to go into the clinical room for their appointment.
Emergency Obstetric Unit
Women must attend the assessment unit on their own and birth partners are required to wait in the car.
Labour ward/Home from Home Unit
Birth partners can accompany women in labour/caesarean section.
Birth partners can accompany woman on admission and at the start of the induction process and will then be asked to leave. Once the woman is in established labour the birth partner can then visit and accompany to the Labour Ward.
Maternity Ward /Home from Home Unit
Women can book a daily two hour visiting slot for their birth partner up until the day of discharge with the staff on the ward.
These restrictions are in place in order to maintain COVID secure environments in the above areas. We plan to review these arrangements when further guidance is issued by the Department of Health.
Visitation during COVID-19
Every patient in hospitals across the Trust will be able to benefit from a daily visit with at least one person.
Visiting is by appointment only. Please contact the Ward Sister/Unit/Department Manager or Deputy to book all appointments.
- 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.
- 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 times 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.
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
Wednesday 16 March Friday 11th March Friday 4th March Friday 25th February Friday 18th February Friday 11th February Friday 4th February The number of staff employed by the Trust 11,526 11,526 11,526 11,482 11,482 11,482 11,353 The number of staff absent due to COVID (Those who are sick/those who are self isolating). 340 TOTAL - 36 of which are self-isolating 498 TOTAL - 45 of which are self-isolating 469 TOTAL - 46 of which are self-isolating 548 TOTAL - 60 of which are self-isolating 461 TOTAL - 59 of which are self-isolating 441 TOTAL - 52 of which are self-isolating 554 TOTAL - 54 of which are self-isolating The number of staff off due to non-COVID sickness 810 808 819 816 852 865 868
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