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Health minister calls for balanced message from Executive as further nine deaths in Northern Ireland confirmed

  • Further nine deaths in Northern Ireland
  • NI parties split on easing lockdown

Health Minister Robin Swann has said the Executive needs to strike a balance to avoid giving out the impression coronavirus restrictions will soon be eased.

Speaking at the Stormont press conference on Thursday, Mr Swann said he and his colleagues "need to avoid giving out the wrong signals and giving the impression restrictions are soon going to be eased, because they are not".

"There is pressure on those of us in leadership to chart a way forward, to reassure people there will be a life after lockdown," he said.

"What we are doing is tough and the longer it lasts the tougher it's going to get."

It comes as a further nine people have died as a result of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

It brings the death toll in Northern Ireland to 347, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in hospital.

An additional 2,243 test have been carried out, resulting in 73 further positive cases.

This brings the total number of tests carried out to 25,778 and the total number of cases of the virus to 3,536.

Mr Swann warned social distancing measures could be in place "for months or even years" as a result of the pandemic.

"There will be no big bang moment when these restrictions go away," he said.

But he said the legacy of the coronavirus should be a reimagining of the health service that does not survive year-to-year and in need of radical transformation.

Earlier on Thursday, Sinn Fein rejected calls to ease the coronavirus lockdown in Northern Ireland as "irresponsible while we are still in the eye of the storm".

DAERA Minister Edwin Poots has said he believes churches, garden centres and forest parks should be allowed to open while maintaining social distancing.

“The restrictions put in place to save lives are tough but remain absolutely necessary," a Sinn Fein spokesperson said.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said travel had increased across Northern Ireland due to the message sent to the public by reopening cemeteries.

Check out our live blog below to see how Thursday's developments unfolded

Belfast Telegraph