There are cases of Covid-19 in 20 care homes across Northern Ireland, the health minister has said.
Robin Swann revealed the figure at Stormont’s daily press conference on Tuesday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said there were signs social distancing measures were working.
However, he and Mr Swann warned that this did not mean there could be a relaxation of the restrictions any time soon.
The total number of NI deaths in the coronavirus outbreak has reached 73, with three more deaths recorded on Tuesday.
Northern Ireland ‘No time lag’
There have now been 1,255 confirmed cases, with 97 new cases confirmed in the past 24 hours.
A further 36 deaths in the Republic of Ireland has brought the total there to 210.
Mr Swann said the cases of coronavirus in the 20 care homes were being managed by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and Public Health Agency (PHA), but did not detail which homes were affected or how many residents.
“If anyone needs to be moved into hospital that is being done, there is no time lag or delay,” he said.
The most recent figures show there are 484 care homes in Northern Ireland, with a total of 16,000 beds.
The minister also said the number of people with Covid-19 being admitted to hospital in Northern Ireland is increasing, with 55 people currently in critical care.
Dr McBride said there were signs that social distancing measures were having an impact on the spread of the virus, but he warned against complacency.
“If we relax measures we will see further increases in admissions of cases with Covid-19 and further people getting sick and requiring admission to our ICUs and could potentially overwhelm our health service,” he said.
Northern Ireland ‘Keep fighting back’
“Now is not the time to relax our guard or feel fatigued. We need to stick with these measures,” he added.
Mr Swann added that there was no indication that measures would be relaxed any time soon, and suggested that it was too early to look at the possibility of an exit strategy from the restrictions.
The health minister also said additional PSNI officers would be on patrol over the Easter weekend to enforce the restrictions.
“Don’t let the health service down and keep fighting back,” he said.
“Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean you have to be out of your homes.”
Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster denied that executive ministers did not care about the safety of health care staff in the community during the Covid-19 crisis.
Northern Ireland ‘Look them in the eye’
It followed a claim that 13 staff are now self-isolating with symptoms of coronavirus because they were forced into a shared office when they could have worked at home.
The claim was made during the first meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s ad hoc committee on the response to Covid-19.
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SDLP assembly member Colin McGrath said the 25 staff included social workers and district nurses and others “who had little to zero PPE because they were told they don’t need it.”
Addressing the first and deputy first ministers, he said: “Can you look them in the eye and say you have done everything for them?
“That you do value the staff and their contributions so much that you send them back to work afraid because they don’t have the correct PPE equipment.”
Responding, Mrs Foster said: “My goodness what a question.
“We spend every single day caring about our domiciliary care staff, our health care workers, our police officers, our prison officers which is why we have put such an emphasis on personal protective equipment.”
The surge of the virus is expected to arrive in Northern Ireland at some point before 20 April.
In other developments:
- Northern Ireland’s health system has increased its total of mechanical ventilators used in critical care to 197
- A memorandum of understanding, enhancing cross-border co-operation with the Republic of Ireland on the response to Covid-19, has been signed between the respective health services
- Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey has written to assembly members to say he must self-isolate at home for 12 weeks due to his cardiac history
- An MoT centre in Belfast has become the first to open as a Covid-19 testing site
- The public has been urged to take part in NHS-wide clinical trials being rolled out in primary care and in hospital
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