Five patients at two hospitals in Northern Ireland have died amid Covid-19 outbreaks.
Two patients at the haematology ward at Craigavon Hospital died, the Southern Trust confirmed on Friday.
It follows the death of four patients on the same ward two weeks ago.
Fourteen patients and 23 members of staff had tested positive for the disease. Additionally 45 staff members have been identified as potential contacts and are currently self-isolating.
The Trust also confirmed that three patients at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry have died with the virus.
Eleven patients and 21 staff had tested positive, and 67 staff contacts are currently off and self-isolating.
Trust chief executive Shane Devlin expressed sympathy to the families and friends of the patients who have died, on behalf of staff.
“Our immediate priority is to manage the serious impact of Covid-19 in our community and in our facilities,” he said.
“We have sought independent advice from both the NI Public Health Agency and Public Health England to make sure that our management is of the highest standard and we are sharing our learning with other Trusts across Northern Ireland.”
Visiting at both hospitals remains suspended.
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has urged an urgent independent investigation into the handling of the outbreak at Daisy Hill Hospital, adding that staff and patients are “really anxious and are worried”.
“This evening’s confirmation from the Southern Trust that there have been three deaths at Daisy Hill Hospital is very sad and extremely concerning,” he said.
“I have been made aware of these deaths in recent days by families and I raised my concerns with both the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust and indeed the Minister for Health.”
“The Trust have confirmed this large number of positive tests within staff and patients and sadly bereavements. We cannot allow this to continue unchallenged without investigation. The Minister must act now.”
Earlier, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said he is taking measures to protect others after testing positive for Covid-19.
The West Tyrone representative received the positive result on Friday, after testing negative for the virus earlier in the week.
This wk I'd a test for Covid-19. On Tues my result returned negative. Since, a member of household has tested positive. I'd another test yesterday evening & have now tested positive for Covid-19.— Daniel McCrossan MLA 🕊🇪🇺 (@McCrossanMLA) September 18, 2020
I will continue to be in isolation & to help & support people from home. Stay safe
“Early on Monday I was made aware that I had been in contact with someone who was demonstrating symptoms of Covid-19. I immediately booked a test and informed my colleagues that I would not be able to attend plenary sessions in the Assembly this week as a result,” he said.
“Late on Tuesday I received a negative test result. This was a huge relief, but unfortunately at that time a member of my household received a positive test result and, in line with the public health guidelines, I have remained in isolation at home.
“Late on Wednesday I began experiencing symptoms of the virus – headache, fever and a new cough. I booked another test for Thursday and received the positive result today.”
Mr McCrossan said his priority is to keep those around him safe.
“This has been a distressing time but my first priority is to keep those around me safe,” he said.
“I immediately reported the result on the Stop Covid app and have taken the decision to close my Assembly office to the public as a precaution against transmission of the virus and to ensure the safety of local people.
“This virus spreads so easily, the member of my household and others who were tested had no symptoms at first. It’s a frightening reality.”
Mr McCrossan said he will continue to work in isolation.
On Friday the Department of Health announced two further deaths with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, bringing the total toll in the region to 575.
A further 163 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported in the last 24-hour reporting period, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 8,943, including 763 in the last seven days.