| 2.2°C Belfast

Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Further 11 deaths and 841 new cases amid warnings new Covid strain could force school closures

  • Death toll rises to 1,251
  • Cases since outbreak now 64,564
  • New Covid variant confirmed in NI
  • Scroll down to see how Christmas Eve unfolded

Close

Shoppers wearing face masks due to Covid-19 restriction pictured in Belfast City Centre. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Shoppers wearing face masks due to Covid-19 restriction pictured in Belfast City Centre. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Shoppers wearing face masks due to Covid-19 restriction pictured in Belfast City Centre. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

A further 11 people in Northern Ireland have died after testing positive for Covid-19 and 841 new cases of the virus have been confirmed.

It brings the death toll to 1,251 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 64,564.

The 841 new cases reported is the highest single-day increase in cases since October 23.

A full breakdown of the latest figures and hospital data will not be available until December 29.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

The news comes after chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said it would be "very difficult" to keep schools open if the new variant of Covid-19 becomes the dominant form of the virus in Northern Ireland.

First detected in England last week, a new, "aggressive" form of Covid was confirmed as being present in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

A genome analysis was subsequently conducted on a small number of suspected cases in NI which resulted in one positive case detected.

It is understood health officials believe the strain has been in circulation at a low level in the region for several weeks.

Speaking to the BBC, Prof Young said if current behaviour among the public stays the same, the variant could spread rapidly. He warned it could be necessary for tougher lockdown restrictions.

"If we say R (the reproductive rate of the virus) at the moment is sitting around 1 to 1.2 and if we had the variant form of the virus and we are behaving in the same way, R would probably be closer to 1.6 to 1.8, and clearly that would have substantial consequences," he said.

"It is a big difference and we are absolutely concerned about this virus. We can see there are parts of the UK and indeed the Republic of Ireland where R is sitting at that sort of level, that may be due to the variant virus in some cases.

"In other cases it will just be due to how people are interacting with each other, the number of contacts that people have."

Prof Young said that if the new variant becomes dominant here it could cause the closure of schools.

"With colleagues nationally, that is one of the questions we're working on over Christmas, looking at all of the emerging evidence around the variant form of the virus. But at the moment, I would say that if the variant becomes the dominant form in Northern Ireland then it is very unlikely we could keep R at less than 1 and schools open."

Commenting on the news of the variant being detected here on Wednesday, Health Minister Robin Swann has urged the public to redouble their efforts in the fight against the pandemic.

"This is sadly the confirmation we had been expecting. As I have stated from the outset of this pandemic, we have to avoid both panic and complacency," he said.

"We all have to redouble our efforts to stop the virus spreading. We know how to do this - cut down our contacts with others, ensure strict social distancing, wash our hands regularly and thoroughly, and wear a face covering."

Meanwhile, the Executive has urged those forming Christmas bubbles to do so for tomorrow only to help stem the spread of the virus.

Northern Ireland will enter a new period of lockdown from Boxing Day, with a stay-at-home curfew in place from 8pm to 6am for that week and hospitality and other businesses to close.

Here's how Christmas Eve unfolded:

Belfast Telegraph


Privacy