NI coronavirus lockdown could be extended to March 5

Stormont health minister Robin Swann has proposed the step to help drive down case numbers, it is understood
NI coronavirus lockdown could be extended to March 5

Northern Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions could be extended to March 5 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions could be extended to March 5.

Stormont health minister Robin Swann has proposed the step to help drive down case numbers, it is understood.

Ministerial colleagues at the Executive in Belfast are meeting to discuss the advice.

On Wednesday Mr Swann warned against premature easing of the curbs, adding this is “not the time to open any floodgates”.

An extended lockdown closing non-essential retailers, keeping schools shut to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began after Christmas.

Family gatherings are prohibited and police enforcement has been stepped up.

It was expected to last for six weeks from December 26.

The rocketing tally of new case numbers have began to ease off.

Struggling hospitals are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.

A further 21 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died.

Another 732 new cases of the virus have been detected, according to the Department of Health on Thursday.

There are 806 Covid-positive patients in hospitals, with 70 in intensive care.

More than 100 military staff will support the health service in Northern Ireland, including at the Nightingale surge facility at Belfast’s City Hospital, a health trust chief has said (Niall Carson/PA)

More than 100 military staff will support the health service in Northern Ireland, including at the Nightingale surge facility at Belfast’s City Hospital, a health trust chief has said.

While the use of soldiers has sparked rows in the Stormont Executive in the past, Sinn Fein said it would not rule out any measures that can help save lives.

Dr Cathy Jack, chief executive of the Belfast Health Trust, told a Stormont committee they will work under trust management.

“Throughout this pandemic, retirees, students and volunteers have all come in to help us and we have welcomed them,” she told MLAs.

“This is another group of highly-trained individuals that will support my staff to support the patients and deliver the care they need and I welcome this.

“They are band four equivalent staff, they are medically trained technicians able to take blood, and they will be working under our normal management structures.

“For me in Belfast, they will be focusing on helping to support the regional Nightingale.”

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