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Two more deaths sees toll reach 526 as minister warns against complacency

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Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Health Minister Robin Swann has warned we must never lose sight that coronavirus is still spreading, making people seriously ill and claiming lives.

He was speaking at Stormont's daily Press conference yesterday as two further deaths were confirmed here.

Four new cases were reported after 831 tests involving 583 individuals on Monday - the lowest figure since March.

The death toll now stands at 526.

Across the UK, 39,369 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on Monday, up by 324 on the day before.

Meanwhile, the Republic's death toll has risen to 1,658 after a further eight fatalities were announced.

There have also been 10 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 there, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 25,066.

The Executive is set to introduce a series of lockdown relaxations next Monday if the data presented to Stormont ministers tomorrow shows the transmission of the virus remains under control.

If the R-rate - the number of people an infected person infects - remains below 1 this week, ministers will give the go-ahead for those shielding to go outside with people from their own household, or one person from another household if social distancing is observed.

They will also sanction the reopening of more retail outlets and give the all-clear for small outdoor weddings.

For most of May our R-rate has been around 0.8-0.9, before falling slightly last week. Mr Swann did not disclose the current R-rate yesterday, but said he was "hopeful" the changes could be approved as planned on Thursday.

However, he warned against complacency, saying: "Our battle against Covid-19 is finely balanced.

"Yes, we have made important progress against it, we have flattened the curve and saved many lives.

"As a result of that immense effort, we have started the process of cautiously and gradually edging out of lockdown. But we are still at a very early and tentative stage of that process. It wouldn't take that much to tip the reproductive spread of the virus over the all-important 1 figure."

Mr Swann said the messages at the start of the pandemic were "just as important now".

"Covid-19 remains a deadly and highly infectious virus," he added.

He urged people not to flout the public health guidance, saying: "Don't think this is all over. That kind of complacency will undo the progress we have all achieved so far. It would ruin any hopes of further easing the lockdown."

Belfast Telegraph