Covid crisis: Five dead in North and 727 new infections
A total of 34,832 cases confirmed in NI since pandemic began, with death toll rising to 658
There are 342 patients in Northern Irish hospitals receiving treatment for Covid-19, with 39 people in intensive care and 30 on ventilators. File photograph: The Irish Times
Five people with Covid-19 have died and 727 new cases of the disease have been reported to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health in the last 24 hours.
A total of 34,832 cases have been confirmed in the North since the pandemic began and 658 people with the disease have died, the department said.
There are 342 patients in Northern Irish hospitals receiving treatment for Covid-19, with 39 people in intensive care units and 30 on ventilators.
The incidence of the disease in Derry and Strabane remains the highest in the North but is continuing to fall, with 538 cases per 100,000 of population in the last seven days.
Belfast has an incidence rate of 502 cases per 100,000 people and the figure for the North as a whole is 363 cases per 100,000.
Meanwhile, the head of the Catholic schools sector in Northern Ireland has warned against any extension of school closures.
While more than half of all Northern Ireland schools have experienced at least one Covid-19 case, Gerry Campbell, chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), said every effort must be made to ensure all schools open next week.
As part of a mini-lockdown recently announced by the Northern Executive, schools were closed for two weeks (including the one-week mid-term break) while much of the hospitality sector shut down for four weeks.
Medical and scientific advisers had suggested that closing schools for four to six weeks might be a means of significantly bringing down the R number – the number of people to whom each infected person transmits the virus.
Some of the Northern Executive parties, including Sinn Féin, were understood to have favoured such a move but this was resisted by the DUP. In the end a compromise of a two-week closure was agreed, with schools due to reopen next Monday.
At least one Covid-19 case has been reported in 519 of the North’s 1,035 schools. As the debate continues over whether schools should remain open or closed, Mr Campbell advised strongly against any continuance of the current closedown.
“All must be done to support the reopening of schools in early November after the extended mid-term break announced by the Minister of Education,” he said.
“CCMS is extremely concerned about both the impact on our children and young people and the longer-term effects that this crisis will have on our current cohort of pupils.
“The impact on the economy, communities and wider society is likely to have repercussions for years to come and education, in particular, faces significant obstacles and difficulties.”
On Monday the PSNI reported that since March it had issued 3,118 fines and warnings against people for breaching the coronavirus regulations. These included 45 fines of £1,000 for failure to self-isolate.
Grants in excess of £500,000 paid out
Meanwhile, the North’s Department for the Economy has said more than £500,000 was paid out to Northern Ireland wind turbine owners in emergency Covid-19 grants even though they were subsequently deemed ineligible for the scheme.
The department said that 52 wind turbine operators each received £10,000 payments as part of the North’s coronavirus small business support grant scheme.
When the scheme was announced in March 2020 people already in receipt of small business rates relief automatically received the grants. The payments went to turbine owners whose bank details were held by the North’s Land and Property Services for ratings purposes.
The department, which is run by DUP Minister Diane Dodds, subsequently ruled that the owners were ineligible as they would not suffer hardship as a result the virus restrictions.
“The department will, where possible, seek to recover any funding that may have been paid to those deemed ineligible to receive payment,” said a spokesman.
While acknowledging the payments, the department in mitigation said that at the outset of the pandemic it was under great pressure to try to meet the hardship concerns of thousands of firms and that this method of automatic payment was deemed the most expeditious.
“The department is content that it took the necessary, swift action to support tens of thousands of businesses facing serious difficulties, or failure, caused by the Covid-19 crisis,” said the spokesman.
He added that the economy department had paid out more than £338 million to more than 32,000 businesses in support grants