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Poots says time to move to 'graduated response' on lockdown measures as nine further NI deaths confirmed

  • Northern Ireland death toll rises to 338 and additional 55 Covid-19 cases identified
  • Officials say 1,447 tests carried out between April 27 to April 28
  • Confirmed Covid-linked deaths jump to 26,097 across the UK
  • Scroll down for today's live updates

Minister for Agriculture and the Environment Edwin Poots has said the Executive has discussed reducing lockdown restrictions and he believes it is time to move toward a "graduated response" in measures.

He also warned 10,000 jobs could be lost in the agri-food sector if more support is not provided for the farming industry, at Wednesday's daily Executive press conference.

It comes as a further nine deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. The daily figure relates mainly to hospital fatalities and brings the death toll in the region to 338.

Mr Poots said the public could feel hope amid moves to reopen cemeteries, public waste facilities and pedestrian access to forest parks in efforts to boost mental wellbeing.

He said garden centres could allow for social distancing given their size and the alternative for not opening them over the next few weeks was for the Executive to offer a support package for such businesses.

Mr Poots said easing some restrictions would make it easier for people to stay at home.

"The purpose of these actions is to help people cope and stay at home longer. Small steps like this do not mean we drop our guard, it is not business as usual," he said.

"We see the number of admissions to our hospital fall and we hope to see the number of deaths fall on a consistent basis," he said.

Deirdre Hargey said the relaxing of restrictions will be reviewed at the start of next week, depending on medical and scientific advice

She also revealed a discretionary support service for vulnerable people on low incomes received 10,500 calls in one day this week, double the normal call volume.

Mr Poots said the death of his father had brought into sharp focus for him the impact of the virus.

He said it had "robbed us of the things that we love", such as visiting loved ones and holding normal funeral services.

"The battle is far from over, but we can already feel hope. Triumph over despair. Our actions are making a difference," he said.

"We must not risk undoing all the great work and risking another wave."

An additional 55 Covid-19 positive cases were also confirmed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,463 since the outbreak began.

From April 27 to April 28, 1,447 tests were carried out. A total of 24,359 tests have now been carried out in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus has also affected 69 care homes in NI.

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

Belfast Telegraph