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As coronavirus death toll rises, Northern Ireland warned of 'dark days and weeks ahead'

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One of the wards in the new Nightingale Hospital at Belfast City Hospital on April 7th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

One of the wards in the new Nightingale Hospital at Belfast City Hospital on April 7th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

One of the wards in the new Nightingale Hospital at Belfast City Hospital on April 7th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland faces "dark days and weeks" ahead as the coronavirus crisis deepens, the Health Minister has warned.

Robin Swann was speaking at a daily Stormont press briefing as the death toll from the pandemic here reached 73, with three of those deaths revealed yesterday.

A total of 55 Covid-19-related patients are critically ill, with a further 96 people admitted to hospital.

The number of people here who have tested positive for coronavirus stood at 1,225 yesterday, a rise of 97 cases from Monday.

Across the UK, the number of coronavirus hospital deaths now stands at 6,159, an increase of 854 in a single day. England recorded 758 deaths yesterday, with 74 in Scotland and 19 in Wales. The number of new cases UK-wide reached 3,634.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths in the Republic has risen to 210, with 36 further deaths reported yesterday. A further 345 confirmed Irish cases of Covid-19 have also been recorded, totalling 5,709.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has now urged households not to visit holiday homes over the Easter weekend in a bid to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Swann also urged people in Northern Ireland not to become complacent as the holiday period approaches this weekend.

"These are difficult times and sadly there will be more dark days and weeks ahead," he said.

"The importance of social distancing we cannot stress enough. We are only at the start of the potential peak that we've been looking at from our worst-case scenario - these measures do seem to be working but they have to be maintained."

Stressing that complacency is "our biggest enemy", he urged the public to maintain social distancing, "because your actions today will affect where our health service is in two weeks' time".

Mr Swann revealed the number of mechanical ventilators had increased to 197, with more on order.

He also said he would not allow or tolerate health workers being put in danger as a result of inadequate PPE, stressing supplies for current demand are "sufficient", with more on order for any "future demand or second surge later this year".

"We must never become complacent so I would much prefer to come out the other side of this pandemic with far too much PPE remaining in stock than not enough," he continued.

"I want to reassure all those listening, as things currently stand there is sufficient capacity of equipment and oxygen to provide critical care for those who need it," he told the briefing. Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said there are early signs that social distancing is working here, and urged the public to continue.

"There are emerging signs that these measures are making a difference in Northern Ireland and your actions are and will continue to save lives," he said.

"But complacency at this time remains our greatest challenge. If we relax those measures we will see again further increases in admissions of patients with Covid-19, further people getting sick and requiring admission to our intensive care unit and potentially overwhelming our health service."

He acknowledged the measures were difficult for everyone, but urged the public to continue to do the "right thing", adding: "This virus hasn't gone away (and) it's not going away any time soon."

Belfast Telegraph