Coronavirus death toll increases by nine in North

ireland
A coronavirus testing centre at the SSE test centre in the Odyssey car park in Belfast. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
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By James Ward and David Young, PA

Nine more people have died after contracting coronavirus in Northern Ireland, the region's Department of Health has said.

An additional 315 cases of the virus have also been confirmed cases in the past 24 hours.

It brings the number of deaths from Covid-19 in the North to 983, while case numbers now total 51,824.

One of the nine latest deaths notified fell outside the 24-hour period, according to the department.

There are currently 410 Covid-19 patients in hospital in Northern Ireland, with 33 in intensive care units. There are currently 16 ICU beds available in the health service.

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The new figures came after the chief medical officer insisted another period of intensified coronavirus restrictions in the new year is not inevitable.

Dr Michael McBride said while a “payback” in infection rates is expected in January following the relaxation of rules over Christmas, the extent of the rise in cases depends on public behaviour.

He said the Executive will issue guidance next week on how households can minimise infection risks when more mixing is permitted between December 23rd and 27th.

Circuit-break

Northern Ireland has just entered another two-week circuit-break lockdown in a bid to drive down transmission rates ahead of Christmas.

Asked if another clampdown in January is inevitable, Dr McBride said: “It depends on all of us. There will be a payback for the relaxations over Christmas. But I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s important for our mental health and for our well-being, but we will see increased transmission.

“When we come together, the virus is there and the virus will spread. So we really need to be careful, what we need to do is get the virus down as low before we go into the Christmas period as possible and be really careful over Christmas.”

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Dr McBride acknowledged the difficulties the retail and hospitality sectors are facing as they lose out on two weeks of trade at the busiest time of the year.

“I’m sorry that we are in this situation,” he said.

“I know there’ll be many views about the needs for, or not for, this restriction.

“But it is making a difference, it is making an impact. I just want to thank everyone, now the Executive has made its decision, for all of their efforts.”

The chief medical officer said there is evidence the recent period of tightened restrictions is starting to bring down hospital admission numbers.

“Let’s make this two weeks work,” he added.

“This is a really important opportunity for us to get the virus levels down as low as possible before Christmas.

“It’s working, what we’re doing is working, your commitment, we’re seeing reduction in the number of cases, we’re seeing a beginning of a fall in numbers of patients in the hospital.

“That’s the best way to protect each other, our families and protect our health service and, more importantly, save lives. So let’s just get this done.”

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On the roll-out of a vaccine, he sought to downplay expectations that it will remove the need for restrictions in the short-term.

“We have some difficult months ahead of us,” he said.

“The vaccine will not see us through this winter but I am confident by late spring it will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting and hopefully talk of wider and further restrictions will increasingly become a thing of the past.”

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