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NI restrictions to remain in place for three more weeks

Six further coronavirus-linked deaths were reported in the region on Wednesday

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First Minister Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

The lockdown on movement in Northern Ireland will remain in place for a further three weeks, the First Minister has announced.

Arlene Foster said it was “appropriate and proportionate” to keep the current regulations in operation.

Ministers in the powersharing executive agreed the move at a meeting on Wednesday.

The number of people with coronavirus who have died in a hospital setting in Northern Ireland is 140, with six further deaths reported on Wednesday.

Another 121 laboratory-confirmed cases were confirmed, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 2,088.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said while there were positive signs that social distancing was working, the biggest danger was “complacency”.

“We must keep going for this for as long as we need to,” she said.

“Keeping these measures in place remains a necessity.”

The deputy first minister said lives were being saved due to the measures.

“We know it’s not easy, but this is the time to dig in,” she said.

“This is the time to stay strong and this is the time to stay at home and to save lives.”

Earlier, Stormont’s health department said almost 1,000 tests a day for coronavirus are being carried out in Northern Ireland.

Officials have faced calls for greater transparency over the number of people who are dying in care homes after contracting the infection as well as demands for more testing there.

Michelle O’Neill said it was time to dig in and keep the restrictions in place (Kelvin Boyes /PA)


Sinn Fein Assembly Member Colm Gildernew called for Covid-19 testing to be carried out in all residential and care homes across Northern Ireland. Around 32 homes are known to be affected.

He said: “I have been speaking to many families who have loved ones in residential and care homes and they are becoming increasingly and rightly concerned about the lack of information around testing for Covid-19 in these facilities.”

He added: “Age should not be a barrier to testing for anyone.”

Testing has been rolled out to include temporary facilities at the SSE arena in Belfast and MOT vehicle testing garages.

A Department of Health statement said: “The health and social care system is working intensively to significantly increase levels of testing across all our laboratory services, within health and social care facilities, other public sector bodies, and also within the commercial sector.

“We have increased capacity in recent weeks and will increase further.”

At the start of the outbreak, laboratories were processing around 40 tests per day.

The department said: “That has now increased to almost 1,000 tests per day”, adding: “We expect to increase our testing capacity further once AFBI labs are operational.”

AFBI is part of another branch of the devolved government outside the health system.

The department went on: “We have been faced with global supply issues with regard to the procurement of reagents to use in test kits; however, the test machines that AFBI use apply Kingfisher extraction methodologies and currently we understand that reagents for Kingfisher are in relatively good supply for Northern Ireland.

“This presents a significant advantage for scale-up of testing in Northern Ireland.

“Subject to being able to secure the key test kits and reagents, when fully operational in a number of weeks, it is expected that AFBI may test up to 1,000 samples per day.”

Meanwhile, two jet skiers have been issued with fines after breaking restrictions designed to limit journeys.

The equipment was tracked down to Millisle in Co Down.

A Coastguard statement said: “Please stay at home. Coastguard will continue to assist police with dispersing people using the coast as a recreational area during this pandemic.”

The economy is enduring its “fastest and deepest” decline ever, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said.

The bank’s monthly survey showed the steepest ever fall in activity.

PA