Northern Ireland has recorded a drop in Covid-related deaths for the fifth week in a row in the latest sign the pandemic is being brought under control.
Figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) on Friday showed there were 44 deaths involving Covid-19 registered between February 20 and 26.
This is a fall from the previous week’s 78 and the fifth consecutive decline since the recent peak of 182 deaths registered in the week ending January 22.
The total number of Covid-related deaths registered in Northern Ireland up to February 26 now stands at 2,816.
The comparative number of deaths reported by the Department of Health up to the same date is 2,054.
The department’s figures are based on patients who previously tested positive, whereas the Nisra statistics are based on information entered on death certificates by medical professionals.
Individuals in this category may or may not have previously tested positive, so this number includes both confirmed and suspected cases and cases where Covid-19 was either a contributor to or the main cause of death.
The figures from Nisra are the latest boost to hopes that the Executive will be able to announce a relaxation of some restrictions when it meets to review the situation on March 16.
The statistics were published after it emerged that the R-rate currently stands between 0.65 and 0.75, while the positive case rate is down to 5%.
These two key indicators will be used to decide when it is safe to move out of lockdown.
According to the Nisra figures, 11,837 of the total number of Covid deaths happened in hospitals, 760 in care homes, 14 in hospices and 205 at residential addresses or other locations.
The 774 deaths in care homes and hospices involved 177 establishments.
Of the 995 deaths of care home residents involving Covid between March last year and February 26 this year, 76.4% occurred in care homes. The remaining 235 were in hospitals.
On this basis, deaths of care home residents account for 35.5% of all Covid-related deaths.
The figures also showed that Covid-19 was mentioned on the certificates of 12% of all deaths registered with Nisra in the week ending February 26.
The Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon council area, which was at the epicentre of the most recent deadly surge, has the highest proportion of Covid-19 related deaths.