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Six more coronavirus deaths takes NI total to 36

People are urged to stay at home as the number of fatal coronavirus cases in NI continues to rise. Credit: Presseye

Six more people who tested positive for the coronavirus in Northern Ireland have sadly died, taking the total to 36.

According to the latest Public Health Agency figures, testing has resulted in 85 new positive cases.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland is now 774.

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Meanwhile, MOT centres across Northern Ireland and a car park at the SSE Arena in Belfast are being looked at as potential Covid-19 testing sites.

Health Minister Robin Swann says the push to ramp up testing has not been “as hard or as fast” as he would have liked, but that authorities have been trying “as hard and as fast as we can”.

During a briefing of Stormont’s health committee, he said the first line of testing is for those admitted to hospital with symptoms, a second line is for people in care homes, and a third is for healthcare workers.

Mr Swann said 387 tests were carried out on healthcare workers on Monday.

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The Health Minister was also quizzed on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Acting committee chairman and Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan asked how many of the 400 million items of PPE referred to as being distributed in the UK in the last two weeks had been delivered to Northern Ireland.

Mr Swann responded: “We haven’t received any of that as of yet, but we are in the supply chain so that is on the way to us.

“We still have our own stocks and supplies, and what I wouldn’t want to do here is get into any sort of political discussion about who has supplied or who hasn’t supplied.

“The order is in ... It’s on its way. It’s not that it is being denied to us, or it’s not that we haven’t got it, it is in the distribution chain.”

The Minister said there are still issues with getting PPE to the right people at the right time.

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Earlier in the meeting, Mr Swann told the committee a memorandum of understanding between the chief medical officers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland “will be signed shortly”.

He described it as a “high-level document that reinforces the commitments we already are doing”.

Mr Swann added: “It is putting on a more formal basis the things that we have been doing.

“We have a very good, strong working relationship with the health service in the Irish Republic through our chief medical officers, my engagement with the minister down there, so we have good working relationships North-South and East-West as well.”

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Mr Swann also referred to expert modelling released on Wednesday which suggested 3,000 people in Northern Ireland will die in the first wave of Covid-19 to hit Northern Ireland.

He said the drop from initial projections of 14,000 if no measures such as social distancing had been put in place shows how “responsible acts” can have an impact on the number of deaths and on how many will become seriously ill.

The Minister also outlined the “next step in our surge plan” with Northern Ireland’s “equivalent of the Nightingale hospitals” being set up at Belfast City Hospital’s tower block.

Some 230 beds will be available there for intensive care.

The latest PHA bulletin also reveals that most tests have been carried out by the Belfast health trust (2,639), followed by the South Eastern trust (1,550), Southern trust (1,111), Northern trust (701), Western trust (677) and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (80).

Most of the positive results were recorded in Belfast (226), followed by Lisburn and Castlereagh council area (97) and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council area (79). The fewest recorded positive cases are in the Causeway Coast and Glens council area (19).

Men and woman are equally represented among those who tested positive, at 50% each.

In terms of the age range, some 32% of the positive tests were people aged between 0-44 years, 40% were between 45-69 years and 28% were aged 70 or over.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know