Total of 65 people test positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland

Appointments for the jab are currently open to those aged over 50 in the North

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster visits the SSE Arena which has been converted into a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre, in Belfast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster visits the SSE Arena which has been converted into a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre, in Belfast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

 

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has given her backing to the sharing of surplus Covid-19 vaccines with the Republic, once the UK’s citizens have been fully vaccinated.

No further deaths among people with Covid-19 were reported by the North’s Department of Health on Monday. A total of 65 more people tested positive for the virus.

Sharing vaccines would be “absolutely the right thing to do”, Arlene Foster told the BBC on Monday, “because we are good neighbours but also because...if we have a differential in vaccines administered between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, then that will have an impact on Northern Ireland”.

Ms Foster has previously spoken to the British prime minister Boris Johnson about the sharing of vaccines, and said she would do so again in the coming days.

Mr Johnson, she said, understood the slower pace of vaccination in the Republic “does have an impact on the efficacy of our vaccine in Northern Ireland as people are moving about from the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland who are not vaccinated and I think that should be of concern.”

However, it is not clear when any vaccines might be shared, with Ms Foster specifying that her understanding was that this could only happen once the UK population had received their second doses of the vaccine.

“As Simon Coveney says, no offer has been made as yet because of course we haven’t vaccinated our cohorts as yet.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, asked about the prospect of Ireland receiving leftover from Britain, dismissed any immediate prospect.

Speaking in Croke Park at the launch of the Government’s new plan aimed at reviving rural Ireland, Mr Martin said that in a conversation with British prime minister Boris Johnson six weeks ago, Mr Johnson was very clear he wanted to vaccinate his own population first.

“They are some distance off that so I think that is where that is. There has been no contact since then and no indication from officials at British Government level in terms of offering any vaccines,” Mr Martin said.

“Of course, any vaccine that are available, if we require them of course we will accept them. There has been no offer,” he added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was “crucially important we have an all-island approach to dealing with vaccination rollout”, adding that she would like to see more co-operation in future.

Meanwhile, the North’s Minister for Health Robin Swann said any decision regarding the sharing of surplus vaccines would be a matter for the UK as a whole, not just Northern Ireland, but he hoped the Republic’s vaccination programme would soon catch up once difficulties over supply were resolved.

He said on Monday that he hoped everyone in the North will have received their first dose of the vaccine by the end of July.

The North’s vaccination programme is significantly ahead of that in the Republic. So far more 850,000 Covid-19 vaccines have been administered, and more than 50 per cent of the adult population has received their first dose. Appointments for the jab are currently open to everyone aged over 50 in Northern Ireland.

The opening of the first mass vaccination centre in Northern Ireland on Monday was hailed by the First Minister as a “significant milestone” in the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland.

The SSE Arena in Belfast – which is the North’s largest concert venue and is home to the Belfast Giants ice hockey team – has been converted into a site capable of delivering up to 40,000 jabs a week.

A slowing of vaccine supply to the UK in recent weeks means the centre will initially deliver about 11,000 vaccinations per week, but this will increase as more doses become available.

The Minister for Health said the opening of the centre would enable the vaccination programme to expand “at an even quicker rate” and he hoped to be able to invite younger age cohorts for inoculation “very soon.”

Vaccinations also began on Monday at community pharmacies, with almost 350 premises in the North joining the vaccination programme.

The Northern Executive is to meet on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus restrictions currently in force, with ministers expected to consider the easing of rules around outdoor activities.

Additional reporting - PA.