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Further 18 deaths confirmed as Northern Ireland faces a surge in cases

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The new Northern Ireland Nightingale wards are designed to treat coronavirus sufferers at Belfast City Hospital.

The new Northern Ireland Nightingale wards are designed to treat coronavirus sufferers at Belfast City Hospital.

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The new Northern Ireland Nightingale wards are designed to treat coronavirus sufferers at Belfast City Hospital.

First Minister Arlene Foster admits Northern Ireland is facing the toughest of times after another 18 deaths were confirmed.

It brings to 36 the number of fatalities announced by public health officials here in just two days.

Eighteen more deaths were confirmed on Thursday.

A total of 176 people have now died after testing positive for the virus in Northern Ireland.

The true figure will be higher, as most deaths outside hospital settings are not included in the daily Public Health Agency bulletin.

Earlier, separate figures released by Northern Ireland's statistics agency suggested the death toll here is a third higher than reported.

In the Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, a further 44 deaths were announced last night ­- the highest figure recorded there in 24 hours. It brings the death toll there to 530.

Across the island of Ireland, 706 people are now known to have died from Covid-19.

Speaking at the daily Executive press briefing, Mrs Foster referred to the heavy burden facing many families.

"That is a lot of heartache for people to bear and every death has robbed families of friends and of an individual who was cherished," she said.

"Our thoughts are with you if you have been left behind and asked to grieve in circumstances that just don't feel right or fair.

"The Deputy First Minister and I know you have had to endure a lot of pain and we want you to know that this Executive will do all that we can to support you in these toughest of times."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill referred to the "cruel and heartbreaking reality of what we are facing, and what we are trying to defeat".

Appealing for people to stick to the social distancing measures, she added: "We are not out of the woods, we are still in the middle of our surge, and we are on a knife-edge."

On Friday, new details on the region's coronavirus death rate were released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

It found almost one in six deaths registered here in one week were linked to the virus.

NISRA's Weekly Death Statistics confirmed the death toll is significantly higher than had been previously reported.

A total of 157 fatalities involving Covid-19 were recorded on death certificates up to last Friday, April 10, NISRA said.

The comparative number of death notifications reported by the Public Health Agency (PHA) at that point had been 118 ­- 39 fewer than is now known.

The discrepancy is because of differences in how the statistics are gathered.

The PHA figures, released each day at 2pm, cover only those who tested positive for the virus. They do not include most non-hospital deaths.

Analysis of registered fatalities shows that Northern Ireland's death rate is significantly above average.

A total of 435 deaths here were registered in the week ending April 10. That was 140 more deaths than the five-year average (295) for the corresponding week - a near 48% rise.

Of the 435 deaths registered that week, 76 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate - one in every 5.7.

Analysis by NISRA suggests men here are at slightly higher risk of dying from the virus, accounting for 52.5% of registered deaths.

People aged 75 and above accounted for almost 70% of Covid-19 related deaths.

Of the 157 virus-linked fatalities occurring by April 10, and registered by April 15, more than two-thirds (109) were in hospital.

Another 41 occurred in care homes and hospices. Those involved 23 separate establishments.

The other seven happened in people's own homes.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: "Today's report, which indicates that a further 39 deaths were connected to Covid-19 up to April 10, while not unexpected is truly sobering.

"It reflects the cruel and heartbreaking reality of the situation we are faced with.

"Regardless of where any person passes away as a result of Covid-19; regardless of the age of that individual; and regardless of any underlying conditions they may have had, every death is just as devastating.

"I offer my deep sympathy to each and every person who has lost a loved one."

Colm Gildernew, who chairs the Stormont health committee, said: "It is essential we know the impact of Covid-19 in terms of case rates and death rates.

"This will better inform us about the spread of the virus and about the effectiveness of the measures taken to date."

Across the UK, another 847 people have died with coronavirus in hospitals, taking the nationwide total beyond 14,500.

Belfast Telegraph