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Stormont's leaders warn complacency risks second wave of virus

Stormont leaders have warned that Covid-19 remains a threat and that "no one can afford to be complacent" as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

The First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, appeared alongside Chief Constable Simon Byrne yesterday and urged the public to keep their focus.

It comes as the Department of Health reported a further three Covid-19 related deaths in Northern Ireland yesterday, bringing the total to 504.

More complete figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) have recorded 664 deaths up until May 15.

Nearly half of the deaths recorded by Nisra have taken place in care homes.

Across the UK the death toll has risen to 36,042, while in the Republic the current total is at 1,592.

Mrs Foster also noted that Nisra figures indicated the death rate in Northern Ireland was lower than other regions at 26 per 100,000, compared to a figure of 46 in England and Wales, and 51 in Scotland.

"Our success will depend on everyone being responsible, on thinking about others and respecting the social distancing and hygiene advice that is critical in keeping the virus spread low," she said.

"Restoring liberties in the face of the deadly virus has been hard won, but we can win back even more freedoms if everyone remains patient, remains disciplined and remains focused on controlling the rate of infection.

"In the absence of a vaccine, the threat from coronavirus is no less than it was when we had to implement the lockdown.

"Covid-19 is still lurking, it thrives when people become complacent and it spreads when people become blase about public health advice, and it kills when people start acting as if the threat is no longer with us."

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Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O'Neill

PA

Michelle O'Neill

Ms O'Neill also made clear that any deviation from the current efforts could risk a second wave of the virus.

"We've said before that there is no relaxation of any measure without risk. That's why it's so important that our approach is cautious and incremental," she said.

"Of course we don't want to be in a position where we reimpose any restrictions at a future point in time.

"If we can help avoid that scenario then that's what we need to do."

She added: "Our success will depend on everyone being responsible, on thinking about other and respecting the social distancing and hygiene advice that is critical in keeping the virus spread low."

Answering some of the most common questions on the restrictions, she said those shielding at home could not yet go out to meet others, for their own safety. For others, she said travelling for exercise and to meet in a group of up to six people outside was allowed if done responsibly.

Mr Byrne said anyone tempted to breach the rules should remember the very real consequences for loved ones.

"So, think twice about 'do I really need to do this'. If I can't convince you and the [First and Deputy First Ministers] can't convince you, then can you go home and look your elderly parents in the eye and say, 'What I did, was that responsible, and was it reasonable?'"

As the initial peak of the pandemic has slowed, Mr Byrne said the PSNI would refocus their efforts from fighting the virus to fighting crime by restoring neighbourhood policing.

Mr Byrne warned that the PSNI would still be acting against large gatherings of people in breach of lockdown restrictions. He noted that the past nine weeks had seen an overall drop in crime figures, with the exception of domestic violence.

He predicted that there would be a rise in "acquisitive crime" - burglaries and thefts - if the economy does not start to recover soon.

Asked about proposals for quarantining travellers entering the UK, Mrs Foster said that the quarantine issue was a reserved matter for the UK Government alone to decide upon.

She did welcome that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had agreed that the restrictions would not apply in the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland.

"I think that is a generous move by the UK Government, and it's something I hope that the Republic of Ireland government will also implement so we can make sure people can travel across the British Isles."

Meanwhile, the First and Ddeputy First Minister have written an open letter to the public thanking them for the personal sacrifices they have made during the Covid-19 crisis.

Belfast Telegraph