04/08/2009

NI Soldier Dies From Swine Flu

While Northern Ireland continues to be the area of the UK least affected by swine flu, tragedy has hit Co Londonderry.

A bombardier in the Royal Artillery who comes from the North West has become the first UK serviceman to have died from the virus.

He passed away in a Surrey hospital last Friday, two weeks after falling sick. It is understood he had underlying health problems.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: "Our thoughts go out to his family, who were at his bedside at the time."

The soldier, who comes from Coleraine, is the 28th person known to have died after getting swine flu in England.

Three people have died in Scotland.

Last week health officials said there were indications the number of swine flu cases in England is no longer rising rapidly and may have "plateaued".

However, England's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said he expected an upsurge later in the year.
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"I think we are probably seeing a downturn in the illness at the moment but we don't anticipate it staying away," he said.

"We expect to see a big surge in the autumn."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Dundonald Ice Bowl could become an emergency mortuary in the autumn if swine flu deaths overwhelm cemeteries and Belfast's crematorium.

A report in today's Belfast News Letter relates that a behind-closed-doors meeting of Castlereagh Borough Council agreed to explore the possibility of making Dundonald International Ice Bowl available as an emergency mortuary if it is required.

Officials involved in the planning - which is taking place at every council across the Province - stress that the plan would only be activated in a worst-case scenario and that the public should not be unduly alarmed.

Contingency planning for emergencies in Northern Ireland is covered by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, with the Ice Bowl itself being located a short distance from Stormont and within the East Belfast constituency of First Minister, Peter Robinson.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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