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Executive delays relaxation decisions as 1,430 new cases announced in NI

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Official figures show only 12 first doses were administered yesterday

Official figures show only 12 first doses were administered yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

PA

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Official figures show only 12 first doses were administered yesterday

Up to 15 people from an unlimited number of households will be able to meet in gardens from Monday.

Close-contact services will also be able to accept walk-in customers and appointments can overlap from Monday.

The Executive has decided to press ahead with a handful of modest relaxations, while ministers delayed decisions on further restrictions amid spiralling Covid-19 case rates.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, released on Thursday afternoon, a further 1,430 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The seven-day case rate stands at 9,372 — up from 4,818 the previous week. Ministers have agreed to meet again on Monday and Thursday next week to consider whether to press ahead with other relaxations that had originally been earmarked for next week.

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The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Stormont’s health advisers would be able to provide further data around the link between positive cases and hospital admissions next week.

On Monday, ministers will consider whether to give the green light to steps in Northern Ireland considered to be moderate risk.

Those include allowing theatres and concert halls to welcome back audiences — with some mitigation measures in place — and increasing the limit on gatherings in indoor domestic settings from six to 10, from no more than three households.

Bangor novelist Colin Bateman questioned why theatres can’t be included in with other areas, such as sports grounds, in welcoming back audiences now.

“I don’t understand the logic, it’s beyond me,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra.

“We seem to be picking and choosing things slightly at random and that’s what annoys people.

"I think most people have just lost track at what the rules actually are by this stage.”

He added, however, that people need to look at the “bigger picture” in regards to the virus.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” continued Mr Bateman. “A theatre play lives and dies by its audience and there’s a lot of people working hard to bring a play.”

On Monday, ministers will also consider whether to lift current restrictions on MoT test centres. If ministers agree to those measures, it is understood they would come into effect immediately on Monday.

On Thursday next week, ministers will consider measures considered to be a higher risk.

Those include lifting restrictions on indoor live music, including a proposal to end a requirement for the sound to be kept to an ambient level.

On Thursday, ministers will also examine a proposal to end social-distancing requirements for outdoor activities and reduce the distance to one metre for indoor settings.

The legal requirement on wearing face coverings in places of worship is also set to be reviewed next week.

“We’re going to continue to make steady progress but I think it’s important to say that we’re making these decisions in the context of an increase, a rapid increase in the number of cases but also, alongside that, in the last eight days we’ve seen the doubling of the number of people in hospitals,” said Ms O’Neill.

Health professionals and scientists have raised concerns about continuing to lift restrictions amid the rising case rate that has been attributed to the arrival of the Delta variant in Northern Ireland.

The number of people being diagnosed with Covid-19 is exceeding 1,000 every day and health professionals are worried this will lead to an increase in the number of people seriously ill with the virus and requiring hospitalisation.

Figures released by the Department of Health on Thursday afternoon show there have been no further deaths, however, there were 165 Covid-19 inpatients, of which 10 were in intensive care.

Almost 1.2m people have now had one dose of the vaccine, while almost one million people are now fully vaccinated.

A statement from the Executive Office announcing the latest restrictions said that a 5% increase in adult vaccine uptake from 85% to 90% will result in an approximately 50% decrease in cases and community admissions at the peak of this wave.

“We ask everyone to please come forward and take up both doses of the vaccine."

"As always, we also ask everyone to continue following the public health advice to help keep yourself, and everyone else, safe.”


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