Coronavirus: Nine more deaths reported in Northern Ireland

Minister says restrictions will not be eased ‘any time soon’ with 3,536 cases in country

The North’s Minister for Health Robin Swann: ‘We need to make sure that as an Executive that we don’t take decisions that risks lives or undermines public safety.’ Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

The North’s Minister for Health Robin Swann: ‘We need to make sure that as an Executive that we don’t take decisions that risks lives or undermines public safety.’ Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Nine more people have died in Northern Ireland with Covid-19, the North’s Department of Health said on Thursday afternoon, bringing the total number of deaths to 347.

The department also reported there were 73 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North. The total number of confirmed cases is now 3,536.

So far 25,778 have been tested for the virus in Northern Ireland.

The North’s Minister of Health Robin Swann said that Northern Ireland was at a “crucial juncture” and there was no possibility that restrictions would be significantly eased “any time soon”.

“We need to make sure that as an Executive that we don’t take decisions that risks lives or undermines public safety,” he said.

While the Executive from Monday is to review whether there can be any easing of the restrictions Mr Swann said social distancing measures were still “vitally needed to save lives”.

On Wednesday, the North’s Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots suggested that in a graduated fashion some rules could be relaxed, with the possible initial opening of churches and garden centres.

Mr Swann however said: “There will be no ‘Big Bang’ moment when all these restrictions go away. The consequences of doing that would be catastrophic. Social distancing will be part of our lives in some form for months to come – maybe even years.

“Until we have a widely available vaccine there will be no full return to what only a few months ago was normality.”

Mr Swann said any changes to the restrictions would happen “carefully and incrementally”.

He added that the spread of Covid-19 so far across the community has “not been as serious as we first feared”.

“But that does not mean the warnings were misplaced, it means the warnings were taken seriously and people stayed at home and kept their distance,” he said.

‘Serious repercussions’

Mr Swann said the Northern Executive recognised “that simply maintaining the current lockdown indefinitely could have serious repercussions for many people’s mental and physical wellbeing”.

“We will all have to weigh up our options very carefully, working closely with colleagues across these islands to ensure that we take the right decisions at the right time,” he said.

Northern Ireland’s chief scientific officer Prof Ian Young said while Northern Ireland had passed the peak number of cases, hospital admissions and ICU bed occupancy, the fall in the number of cases had been very slow.

He said the North remained on a “knife edge” to keep the reproduction number, ie the number of people each infected person gives the virus to, below one. Currently, the figure is between 0.8 and 0.9.