1,100 COVID-19 tests a day to be carried out in Northern Ireland

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By Michael McHugh, PA

Covid-19 testing in Northern Ireland is being expanded to 1,100 per day, Stormont's health minister has said.

More than 600 tests are already being carried out daily in the regional virus laboratory in Belfast. By early next week that number will increase to 900.

Two other testing centres will later begin operating, bringing the total to more than 1,100, Robin Swann said.

Nurses have complained they are being told to self-isolate if they have symptoms and that is taking them away from hospitals or healthcare settings because they are not being checked quickly enough.

The minister told the Assembly: "As a result of the actions of staff, the scale-up is progressing at a rapid pace."

Priority groups include those admitted to hospital, healthcare workers and people living in "clusters".

On Tuesday, Mr Swann introduced legislation at the Stormont Assembly to allow rapid action to address the pandemic.

First Minister Arlene Foster has said she expects restrictions on movement announced by the Prime Minister to last more than three weeks.

Mr Swann said the vast majority of commercial premises must close now.

"It is an instruction. If it is not heeded, our hospitals will be overrun and many people will die needlessly. If it is not heeded, we will not hesitate to enforce it."

It is understood Stormont's ministerial executive is working to prepare a list of who should be going to work.

Long-serving Sinn Fein Assembly member John O'Dowd urged people to heed official advice to stay at home.

He said: "I too am frightened. "I am 6ft 6in and 18 stone on a good day, and I am terrified of a virus I cannot see, I cannot hear, but I know it is everywhere around us.

"I know it poses the greatest single threat to my family, my neighbours, my community - and I mean my community, I mean all the people who live here - that we have ever faced in our lifetime and will likely ever face in our lifetime.

"There are people out there who, either out of bravado or stupidity, ignorance or arrogance, are continuing to flout the advice that has been given to them to protect their own lives and the lives of those people around them.

"When their loved ones are choking to death in an ICU unit, if they are lucky enough to get a ventilator, then it is too late to say 'I am sorry', or 'I did not know', or 'I thought it would happen to someone else'.

"Their loved ones will die alone because they will not be allowed in to hold their hand and comfort them or be with them at their last moments.

"Their loved ones, and the loved ones of others, will die alone so I appeal to them, once again, to do the right thing."

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