Northern Ireland takes small steps out of Coronavirus lockdown

Horticulturalist Robin Mercer of Hillmount garden centre

By Q Radio & PA News

Northern Ireland is taking some small steps out of coronavirus lockdown on Monday as garden centres and recycling facilities reopen.

Angling is also allowed again while marriage ceremonies involving someone with a terminal illness can take place.

The relaxations came into effect as it was announced that coronavirus testing is to be offered to all care home residents and staff in the region.

The move by Health Minister Robin Swann comes after mounting calls for universal testing in homes.

Almost half (45%) of Covid-19 related deaths in the region are occurring in care homes, the most recent figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) have shown.

Stormont's leaders are expected to announce a series of other lockdown relaxations on Monday afternoon, with the region set to formally move to phase one of its five-step exit plan.

Outdoor gatherings of four to six people from outside the same household are expected to be given the go-ahead later, as is the reopening of churches for solitary prayer and drive-in services.

Golf and tennis could also be given the green light in the coming week.

The moves will all depend on the latest scientific and medical evidence.

The coronavirus death toll recorded by Stormont's Department of Health rose to 476 on Sunday after a further three fatalities were announced.

That total primarily encapsulates deaths in hospitals, so the true toll in the region will be larger, once fatalities registered in the community are factored in.

A technical issue with the department's reporting system meant the latest numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases were not announced on Sunday along with the fatalities.

On Saturday, the total of confirmed positive results in the region stood at 4,357.

A meeting of the Stormont executive will convene at noon as ministers discuss the latest moves out of lockdown.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill are expected to make an announcement later in the afternoon.

They were informed by their chief scientific and medical advisers on Thursday that it was now appropriate to move to phase one of the plan.

Ministers were told that the Covid-19 infection rate in region (R0) was below 0.7.

The R0, which is the number of people an infected person transmits the disease to, is a crucial consideration in any decision to ease restrictions.

An R0 below one means the virus's prevalence is gradually decreasing, while a number above one would result in exponential growth.

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