Outspoken priest now fighting Covid

AN Antrim priest who hit the headlines last week for his work with coronavirus patients at Antrim Area Hospital has revealed that he has now tested positive for the virus.

Father James O’Reilly of St. Joseph’s in Greystone is also a chaplain at the facility, and last week he urged people to take the virus seriously in a strongly worded social media post.

He has spent recent weeks sitting with patients who do not have long to live, comforting their families and officiating at funerals.

However has taken to Facebook again, this time to warn people that now he had also fallen victim to the virus.

“Hey everybody, unfortunately I started feeling unwell yesterday and as a result went for a Covid test this morning which has come back positive.” said Father O’Reilly on January 13.

“Please if I could ask you to stay away from St Joseph’s presbytery for the next ten days for any reason.

“And please pray for me. And all who have Covid.”

The news comes as the head of the Northern Trust said that almost 50% of all patients in Antrim Area Hospital have tested positive for Covid-19.

Jennifer Welsh explained that as of Sunday morning, 30 patients in Antrim Area Hospital’s emergency department had received a decision to admit.

However, there were no beds to accommodate them - 24 of those patients had been waiting for more than 12 hours.

She said that it takes more staff and equipment to help care for Covid inpatients and outlined that ‘if almost half of the patients in Antrim are Covid positive I need more staff to cope with that’.

“At the peak of the first wave across both Antrim and Causeway hospitals, the highest number of Covid positive patients that we had was 73 and then in November in wave two, the highest number that we had was 102,” she said.

“Here we are beyond that, peaking on Thursday at 202 patients.

Speaking about recent difficulties, Ms Welsh added: “You’ll recall that Antrim was in significant difficulty mid-December with many ambulances - 17 in total - waiting outside at one point,

“We got significant help and support from colleagues right across the system, particularly the Belfast Trust and South Eastern Trust.

“We are pulling together as an entire system to make sure that we can deliver the care urgently to those who need it.”

Ms Welsh said it is clear that the figures are starting to reduce but warned we are ‘a long way from being out of the woods’, adding that while numbers are on the turn in terms of new positive cases, there is a lag time for those needing enhanced respiratory support.

Ms Welsh explained that Northern Ireland’s trusts have only been able to deal with the surge in patients because so many other services have been stood down.

**See pages 6-7 for a local COVID-19 special**

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