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Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Ministers jubilant after vaccine news but urge caution until end of path is reached

  • Four deaths and 416 new cases reported

  • DoH death toll at 1,015

  • Swann says jabs could be given earlier than intended

  • UK regulator approves Pfizer BioNtech vaccine

  • Scroll down to read Wednesday's blog

First Minister Arlene Foster has hailed the "momentous" news of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine as the moment we have “yearned for all year”.

Speaking at a Stormont press briefing, the DUP leader said the task now is to deliver the vaccination programme as soon as possible.

“This is our pathway back to normality – a world where can hug our wider family and friends, mark major life events and freely enjoy travel and leisure activities," she said.

Mrs Foster paid tribute to the medical and scientific communities and those on the frontline who led the way to "our pathway out" - but warned: "We must all walk that path until the very end.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

"No one is yet protected and the virus is just as dangerous until you receive the vaccine," she added.

Health Minister Robin Swann hailed a "momentous and significant day" after the UK approved the use of the first Covid-19 vaccine in the world, after which vaccinations could begin as early next week in Northern Ireland.

But he said that the Pfizer vaccine poses logistical problems and will be best suited to mass vaccination centres. He said forthcoming vaccines still being assessed for approval should be more suitable for mobile deployment and for use in care homes.

He added: "I have described vaccination as a long walk to recovery, there are many more steps ahead of us, but we now know where we are going."

It comes as Economy Minister Diane Dodds is set to launch a £10m scheme for "newly self-employed" people who have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. Mrs Foster said that those eligible for the scheme will be able to claim a £3,500 grant which will be topped up towards the end of the scheme "as appropriate."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Today we can see the promise of a brighter future. The power of science and humanity has come together to bring us this breakthrough. To bring us hope and bring and end to this global health crisis. It is the beginning of the turning point but we still have a way to go."

It comes as the Department of Health confirmed that a further four people have died after contracting coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

Three people have died in the last 24 hours, with one person passing away outside of this reporting period.

The death toll, according to the Department of Health figures, has now risen to 1,015.

Another 416 people have tested for the virus, bringing the total number of infections since the pandemic began to 53,272.

There are 435 Covid patients in Northern Ireland hospitals, with 37 patients in intensive care. Twenty-nine patients are ventilated. Hospital occupancy is at 99%.

There are 128 active outbreaks in care homes.

Here's how Wednesday unfolded:

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