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Coronavirus updates: Northern Ireland cemeteries to be reopened following Sinn Fein U-turn as 15 more patients die

  • 15 new hospital deaths in the past 24 hours in Northern Ireland
  • A third of NI deaths linked to the outbreak have occurred in care homes, according to NISRA
  • Cemeteries in Northern Ireland to be reopened but restrictions around funerals remain
  • Contact tracing of cases to be rolled out across Northern Ireland next week
  • UK-wide hospital death toll hits 19,506, up 684, while death toll in the Republic tops 1,000 up 37
  • Scroll down for coverage as it happened

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The Executive has agreed that cemeteries in Northern Ireland will reopen PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The Executive has agreed that cemeteries in Northern Ireland will reopen PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The Executive has agreed that cemeteries in Northern Ireland will reopen PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Cemeteries in Northern Ireland are to be reopened, First Minister Arlene Foster has announced.

Graveyards were shut last month as part of lockdown regulations introduced by the Stormont Executive in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the Executive's daily coronavirus update on Friday, Mrs Foster said: "We have agreed to support the health minister in lifting the restrictions on access to graveyards. This is about balancing public health concerns with the basic human need for people to visit their loved ones grave.

Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said ministers “listened carefully to the genuine distress of families who have not been able to visit the grave of a loved one”.

The DUP and Ulster Unionists had been in favour of reopening cemeteries, while Sinn Fein and Alliance previously argued the restrictions should remain in place. The SDLP called for medical and scientific evidence on the issue.

Earlier it emerged that a further 15 people have died in Northern Ireland's hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus.

This brings the death toll in hospitals in the region to 278, according to Public Health Agency (PHA) data.

A further 106 positive cases have also been confirmed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,122.

Figures also show that there has been outbreaks of the virus at 63 care homes.

The latest figures come after the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) said almost one in four deaths recorded in Northern Ireland are now linked to coronavirus. The government body says there were 276 deaths in Northern Ireland involving Covid-19 up until April 17, 64 more than previously reported by the PHA.

That figure includes deaths in hospitals, care homes, hospices and residential addresses. The majority (60%) took place in hospital while 96 (35%) of deaths were in care homes and hospices at 44 separate establishments.

Here's coverage of Friday's main developments:

Belfast Telegraph