Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill urges 'caution' while accusing DUP of 'solo runs' on lifting Covid restrictions

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has urged a date to be set for removing remaining Covid-19 restrictions. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Paul Ainsworth

A DUP minister has prompted calls for caution after suggesting it "makes sense" to set a date to lift remaining Covid-19 restrictions in the north.

Stormont Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said a date should be agreed to lift remaining restrictions and highlighted plans by Britain and the Republic to ease them in the near future.

"Northern Ireland should also have a date for the majority of restrictions to be eased like other parts of the UK and the Republic, where most remaining restrictions will be eased on October 22," he told a reporter last weekend, adding: "It makes sense for us to give that date."

However, the East Antrim MLA said in a tweet yesterday that he had not suggested that actual date as one for the north to follow in lifting restrictions.

Last month Mr Lyons urged the Stormont Executive to "set out a path" to end restrictions, while earlier in August, DUP First Minister Paul Givan said he was in favour of lifting them by the end of September.

However, speaking after recovering from a Covid-19 infection that "completely floored" her, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill urged a "cautious approach" to removing restrictions north of the border.

"When we're able to make easements, we have to measure those easements," she said ahead of an Executive meeting on Thursday.

"It's very clear the winter months ahead are going to be difficult. It's already a difficult picture within the health service. I think it's very unhelpful for DUP ministers to take solo runs in terms of setting out dates that have not been discussed at the Executive.

"What we need on Thursday is that steady, cautious approach."

Yesterday the Department of Health recorded another five Covid deaths and 1,020 new cases of infection.

The latest figures take the confirmed Covid death toll in the north to 2,509, and confirmed cases to 227,296.

The number of Covid inpatients across hospitals yesterday was 379, down 40 from last Friday, while in ICU wards there were 33 Covid patients. The latest data on vaccines shows that 1,201,074 people have now had both required vaccine shots.

In the Republic yesterday 1,154 infections were recorded, taking the confirmed total to 376,517. In hospitals, there were 297 Covid inpatients, of which 65 were in ICU.

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