Northern Ireland news

Soaring cases linked to pre-Christmas mixing during relaxation of restrictions

The relaxation of restrictions in December is being linked to the spike in cases

PRE-CHRISTMAS socialising was linked to almost 2,000 new coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland yesterday.

The Department of Health daily update also confirmed a further 13 Covid deaths, nine of which occurred in previous 24 hours and four prior to that.

A total of 1,985 positive cases were recorded, which Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young attributed to the relaxation of restrictions in the weeks before Christmas as opposed to the new strain discovered in the south of England last month.

The Mid-Ulster region had the highest seven-day Covid rate, at 928 per 100,000 of the population followed by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon at 864.8 and Newry, Mourne and Down at 864.1.

Hospitals are continuing to deal with a spike in Covid related admissions with 592 inpatients, of which 44 are in intensive care with 37 on ventilators.

Six hospitals were also operating beyond capacity yesterday including Altnagelvin, Antrim, the Mater, Royal Victoria, South West Acute and the Ulster Hospital.

Northern Ireland's Nightingale Hospital - based at the in the tower block at Belfast City Hospital - is also set to be expanded, it was reported last night.

According to BBC NI the plan is to increase the number of intensive care beds from 24 to 32.

At present 20 Covid-19 patients are receiving intensive care at the facility and four beds are available.

Meanwhile, a record 7,836 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the Republic, along with an additional 17 deaths linked to the virus.

For the first time, the Republic's seven-day infection rate overtook Northern Ireland at 650.9 per 100,000 compared with 645.4 per 100,000.

A total of 954 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, with 88 in ICU.

The Republic's Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the state was in "a serious phase of this surge of Covid-19. There is evidence of an increasing presence of the UK variant in Ireland. All counties have an upward trajectory of the disease.

"There is concerning escalation of admissions to hospital and ICU. We are very likely to see escalating mortality and ICU admissions in the coming days and weeks."

Separately Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann announced the extension of the free winter flu jab to those aged between 50-64.

The jab will be offered through 350 community pharmacies or GP practices in a bid to relieve further pressure on the health service.

Mr Swann said: "We have seen an increased uptake in the flu vaccine programme this year and whilst this is very encouraging it remains extremely important that we take all necessary measures to help reduce the spread of flu.

"This is especially true given the very high levels of Covid-19 transmission in our communities. Reducing the pressure caused by seasonal flu will help protect our health service and save lives."

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