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Covid restrictions could continue until autumn, says O’Neill

Warning comes as positive cases of virus on rise again


Concern: Michelle O’Neill said Executive was watching the rising cases. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Concern: Michelle O’Neill said Executive was watching the rising cases. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Concern: Michelle O’Neill said Executive was watching the rising cases. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has warned that Northern Ireland could be facing restrictions lasting beyond the summer months after another 605 positive cases were recorded yesterday.

The Department of Health also reported yesterday that that one further death had been recorded, meaning the death toll in Northern Ireland now stands at 2,158.

The update marks another rise in positive cases — with an increase of 72 on the previous Sunday’s figure.

There are only limited figures published by the Department of Health at the weekend. The next full update will be on Wednesday because of the bank holiday.

The Department of Health also said that 2,122,962 total vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Neill said the Executive was watching the rising cases closely, adding that restrictions could remain here until the autumn.

"We will have a better understanding of our own situation certainly mid-summer and towards the end of July and be able to predict perhaps a bit further into the autumn,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

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"But, I think what we would encourage the public is to just be careful. We all need to mindful as we make some easements and start to have some semblance of normality we all need to be careful. There are certainly some restrictions, for example face coverings, that the health team have not at this stage give us any indication.

"We are going to discuss it on August 12 on that one issue for example, but I don’t think we are going to be in a position to take a decision at that stage.

"I think we will be looking at into the early autumn before we will get more towards the end point of being able to lift more things.”

Yesterday, the UK vaccines minister said mask-wearing will still be “expected” in indoor enclosed spaces after July 19.

The Government has come under criticism for removing the mandatory wearing of face masks in the next stage of restrictions, which the Prime Minister is expected to confirm today.

Sixteen health charities have urged ministers to support around 500,000 people for whom the Covid-19 vaccines may give less protection. And more than 120 scientists and doctors also signed a letter in The Lancet accusing the Government of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” and urging it to rethink the move to abandon all curbs.

But Nadhim Zahawi told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News that guidance set out today would say people were expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces, although the legal requirement to do so would be dropped.

Mr Zahawi: “I think it’s important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we’ll set out tomorrow will demonstrate that, including guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces.”

Meanwhile, Irish ministers will hold a virtual meeting tomorrow to sign off on plans to reopen indoor hospitality.

These plans will see the EU Digital Covid Cert (DCC) be used as a ‘vaccine pass’ to allow people who are vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19 avail of indoor dining and drinking in restaurants and pubs.

Hospitality staff will have to scan passes at the door before customers are allowed to enter.

While a date has not been set for when pubs and restaurants will reopen, this will likely be decided at the Cabinet meeting.

It is also believed the date will be based on how quickly the emergency legislation can be passed through the Dail and Seanad.

The new laws will then have to be signed by President Michael D Higgins.

Indoor dining will be reopened on a phased system, where vaccinated and recovered people will be allowed indoors first.

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