By Michael McHugh, PA
The number of Covid-19-related care home deaths halved during the week ending May 8 compared with the week previously, official statistics in Northern Ireland show.
A total of 36 residents died, down from 72 the week ending May 1.
Almost half the 599 total to die with the virus since the start of the pandemic have succumbed in care homes.
The 274 deaths in care homes and hospices involved 71 separate establishments.
Latest figures from @NISRA show almost 600 covid-19 related deaths have been recorded in NI up until 8th May.— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) May 15, 2020
In the last week, 294 occurred in hospitals, 269 in care homes, 5 in hospices and 31 at home.
Figure compares to @healthdpt 432 deaths during the same period. pic.twitter.com/Yne4Fb5Mri
Extra measures and funding have been put in place to bolster services there, health minister Robin Swann said, after some recorded clusters of coronavirus infection threatening the most vulnerable.
Official Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) information covers deaths up to May 8 but its latest bulletin was released on Friday May 15 to allow time to collate and analyse the information.
Over six weeks when the virus was present, 766 "excess" deaths, those above the average for the corresponding week in previous years, have been registered.
A total of 77 involving Covid-19 occurred in the week ending May 8 in Northern Ireland, the latest data shows.
Of these, 37 occurred in hospitals, 36 in care homes, one in a hospice and three at residential addresses.
Up to the period ending May 8, 599 deaths involving Covid 19 occurred: 294 (49.1%) of which took place in hospital, 269 (44.9%) in care homes, five (0.8%) in hospices and 31 (5.2%) at residential addresses or other locations.
The comparative number of deaths reported daily by the Department of Health to May 8 was 432.
On Friday, the Department of Health said there had been another 15 deaths, bringing its total to 469.
BREAKING:— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) May 15, 2020
📍15 new deaths from COVID-19 announced by @healthdpt
📍Total of 469 deaths from the virus here
📍Figures differ from @NISRA data which said 599 people have died from the virus (due to differences in reporting method)
📍Confirmed/suspected outbreaks in 107 care homes https://t.co/ubk2MOPKJh pic.twitter.com/KLxEW3ZyOY
An extra 26 confirmed cases brought the total to 4,317.
These figures are based on mainly hospital patients having previously tested positive for the virus, whereas Nisra figures relate to information entered on death certificates, completed by medical professionals.
They may or may not have previously tested positive for the virus.
Nisra broke down its figures by local government district.
It said those with an address in Belfast accounted for 173 (30%) of the 578 deaths registered so far this year.
Fermanagh and Omagh saw the lowest number at 16. Derry and Strabane saw 26.
Stormont's leaders have announced some minor relaxations of lockdown measures.
Garden centres and household recycling centres will be able to reopen on Monday.
Marriage ceremonies involving someone who is suffering from a terminal illness will also be allowed from next week.
First Minister Arlene Foster, who revealed Northern Ireland's infection rate (R rate) had dropped to below 0.7, said the announcements represented "very tentative first steps toward recovery".
Angling will also also be permitted from Monday.
Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has ordered the pedestrianisation of some streets in Belfast and temporary widening of some pavements to facilitate social distancing.
She said: "Some of the changes we will make have not been tested before.
"They may not all work, but we have an opportunity now to try new things and to learn from them.
"I will not let pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good."
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said they were sensible measures.
"Businesses in Belfast are supportive of the need to reshape our city in the long term to make it a more attractive place to live, work and play and to help deal with the challenges of climate change," he said.
"We want to see a city centre that is less reliant on private cars and more pedestrian, cyclist and public transport-friendly, and we look forward to working with the minister to shape that vision for Belfast."