Nine coronavirus deaths in Northern Ireland bring total to 338

NI Executive may opt for ‘baby step’ easing of restrictions starting with garden centres

So far, 24,359 people have been tested in Northern Ireland for coronavirus.  Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

So far, 24,359 people have been tested in Northern Ireland for coronavirus. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

 

Nine more people have died in Northern Ireland from the coronavirus, according to the latest figures from the North’s Department of Health.

As the Northern Executive considers relaxing the lockdown rules this brings the number of Covid-19 fatalities to 338. The figure does not include the number of people who died in Northern Ireland care homes and hospices which is expected to increase the total by at least one-third.

The department also reported that 55 more people have tested positive for the virus bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,463. So far 24,359 people have been tested for the virus.

The North’s agriculture Minister Edwin Poots meanwhile has hinted at a “baby step” graduated relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions that could begin with the opening to the public of garden centres.

The DUP Minister and the Sinn Féin Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey at a Ministerial Stormont press conference on Wednesday evening said that from Monday the Northern Executive will start examining whether some of the lockdown arrangements could be eased.

Both Ministers said they would be guided by ministerial and medical advice but nonetheless indicated the Executive is seriously considering softening some of the rules.

Cemeteries

Last week the Executive allowed cemeteries to reopen and Mr Poots said it was now considering how to move forward through “baby steps” as opposed to a “big bang” response.

“Garden centres are facilities where you can practise social distancing,” he said.

He understood that this was an “incredibly important” period for garden centres as they sell 60 per cent of their goods in April, May and June.

While many centres were operating online this did not make up for their overall loss in trade, added Mr Poots. The alternative to not opening the centres over the coming days or weeks was to provide a costly compensation package for them.

Ms Hargey said it was important that any relaxation in the regulations would not lead to a resurgence of the virus. Nonetheless, there was a clear commitment that from Monday the Executive would look at areas where the rules could be eased.

Mr Poots said a relaxation of the rules also could apply to church services and angling.

“We can keep people with us by having a graduated response to it and ensuring that we do not put at risk or in jeopardy any further rise in this coronavirus or indeed a second wave of it whilst giving people a little more latitude to engage in some of the activities that they prefer to engage in,” he said.

The Minister said some larger churches could accommodate people while adhering to social distancing rules.

“We need to look at whether to permit angling, given that it is a solitary sport that people engage in. They walk down to the side of a river, they do that on their own. Where there is little impact those are the things that we can graduate to,” Mr Poots added.

Ms Hargey said that in the past five weeks there were more than 57,000 new Universal Credit social welfare claims. “That is unheard of. There is a huge demand. People are struggling financially, through loss of income or no income at all and they are going towards the social security system,” she said.