Sixteen further Covid-19 deaths recorded in Northern Ireland

In the last seven days, nearly ten thousand people have tested positive for the virus in Northern Ireland. Credit: PA

Sixteen people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, according to the latest figures.

The Department of Health recorded 15 deaths in the last 24 hour period and one that occurred outside that period. The daily figures show 759 positive cases for coronavirus out of 2,705 individuals tested.

In the last seven days, 9,591 people have tested positive for the virus in Northern Ireland.

The hospitals are operating at 94% bed occupancy, with 736 Covid inpatients, 701 Covid-occupied beds, 52 Covid patients in ICU and 37 on ventilators.

The latest figures come as Northern Ireland's six health trusts say the number of people with Covid-19 in hospital will double by the third week of January.

A joint statement was released by the trust chief executives on Sunday.

They said the surge in expected hospital admissions cannot be solved by creating more beds because the staff are not there to care for increased numbers of patients.

READ MORE: Health trusts warn number of Covid-19 patients in hospital could double

Meanwhile, the director of nursing a the South Eastern Health Trust has warned the incoming weeks will be the most challenging in many medical workers' careers.

On Monday morning there were 69 Covid-19 positive patients at the South Eastern Trust, mainly at its Ulster Hospital site, close to the peak of 73 during the second surge.

The intensive care unit at Ulster Hospital had ten patients on Monday, half of whom were positive for Covid-19.

The hospital's ICU capacity is currently 16. When this capacity is reached, patients will be transferred to the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital.

Director of hospital services Dr David Robinson said the third surge is expected to be the worst of the three with pressures currently building, particularly in their inpatient wards and critical care.

As part of its surge plan, the South Eastern Trust has closed most of its outpatient services with the exception of time-critical emergency patients and maternity appointments.

The move is designed to free up staff to support colleagues in hospital wards.

Dr Robinson said the trust is maximising the number of critical care beds it has at the Ulster Hospital and supporting colleagues across Northern Ireland.

"The ask of us is the same as everyone else and so we're meeting with colleagues in Belfast and across the region daily," he said.

Director of nursing Nicki Patterson said she has been nursing for 37 years and anticipates that the coming weeks will be the most challenging of her career.

"For ourselves in South Eastern we are not perhaps feeling just the extent of the pressure that our colleagues in some other trusts are feeling, we have no doubt that across the region these incoming weeks are going to be extremely challenging," she said.

She urged the public to follow the public health messages, for people to behave as if they have coronavirus and minimising contacts, exercising social distancing as well as washing their hands frequently.

Ms Patterson also urged people to come to the emergency department when they need to, but only when they need to.

"The service is here for you, but for those who don't require an emergency service or a hospital, we're appealing that people make (a) measured judgment," she said.

"In the incoming weeks, unfortunately we are not going to be able to care for everyone in the way we would normally want to, but we will do our very best."

She also reassured those unable to visit loved ones in hospital that staff will be there for them.