Northern Ireland news

Further easing of Covid-19 restrictions pushed back to July 5

Enhanced Covid-19 testing is to be rolled out in Ballymoney and Omagh

A further easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland that would have seen the resumption of live music has been pushed back to July 5.

Removing the cap on outdoor gatherings has also been delayed following a meeting of Executive ministers yesterday.

The Executive had last week outlined a number of indicative dates, which were due to be ratified yesterday. But amid concerns about the Delta variant, ministers pushed the planned relaxation of rules back to next month.

Among the changes that could have been made were allowing 10 people from two households to meet indoors and the return of live music at venues that sell food or drink.

Close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, would have also have been allowed to operate without appointments.

The Executive is due to review the situation on July 1 with a view to making changes on July 5.

It comes as the number of Delta variant Covid cases has more than doubled in Northern Ireland over the past week.

Enhanced Covid-19 testing is also to rolled out in two towns in the north after a number of "probable cases" of the Delta variant were identified.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said as a "precautionary measure" it is asking asymptomatic people in parts of Ballymoney and Omagh to get tested in a bid to prevent further infection.

It said households in the areas that the testing covers will be contacted directly by the PHA by post from today.

Testing is open to everyone in the areas over the age of five.

A similar voluntary testing exercise took place in Kilkeel earlier this month after a small number of probable Delta variant cases were discovered.

Dr Bríd Farrell from the PHA said: "Testing in these areas is a precautionary measure to identify asymptomatic cases and help prevent and delay further spread of the virus.

"We encourage all those eligible in the neighbourhoods identified by the agency to present for testing, preferably within 24-72 hours of receiving their letter.

"We are particularly interested in people in the 18 to 40 age group coming forward for testing as we are seeing more cases of the Delta variant in this age group throughout Northern Ireland.

"This is a reminder to everyone that we should take steps now to help reduce the spread of the variant, and must avoid becoming complacent."

It comes as the Department of Health said there had been no further deaths from coronavirus in the north.

No deaths have been recorded from the virus in the past seven days, with the death toll remaining at 2,155.

A further 179 new positive cases were confirmed.

Over the past seven days 847 people have tested positive, up from 592 in the week previous.

There were 16 coronavirus patients in hospital last night, but none were in intensive care. Hospital bed occupancy was 102 per cent and there are three active outbreaks in care homes.

A total of 1,911,239 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland including 1,128,670 first doses.

Meanwhile, in the Republic there have been an additional 373 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

There were 54 people in hospitals with the virus, including 18 in intensive care.

Figures released also reveal around 61 per cent of people in the Republic have had their first vaccine dose and 31 per cent are fully vaccinated

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said more than 3.4 million jabs have been administered to date, including over 2.3 million first doses and 1.2 million second doses.

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Northern Ireland news