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North reports 16 deaths and 973 Covid-19 cases as ‘pathways of transmission’ broken

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A further 16 people have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

973 people have tested positive for the disease, the region’s department of health said on Thursday.

There are currently 850 people being treated in hospital for the virus, while 58 patients are in intensive care.

Stormont first minister Arlene Foster said the reproductive rate of the virus had declined to between 0.7 and 0.9 in Northern Ireland.

“We have been able to break the pathways of transmission,” she said.

However, Ms Foster added the number of hospital admissions was due to peak later this week or early next week.

Intensive care unit admissions will continue rising for another week or so.

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More than 102,000 people have been vaccinated against the disease in the region, and three quarters of care homes have had second doses administered.

The DUP leader added: “We are all now partners in protecting people and preventing a greater loss of life.

“I find it unbelievable that people are still holding house parties when the rest of us are fighting hard to give the rest of us a chance to live.”

The location of passengers who arrive from the Republic is to be raised with the Taoiseach, Mrs Foster said.

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Nothing rushed about special education reopening says Foley

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The Minister for Education has denied there was anything rushed about the botched reopening of special education, as talks with unions continue.

Norma Foley says every effort is being made to ensure children with special educational needs can return to school.

Students with special education needs had been due attend classes in-person once again from today, before talks between the Department of Education and the unions collapsed on Tuesday.

Union representatives said staff were hesitant to return to the classroom with the current high levels of Covid-19 in the community.

Ms Foley accused the unions of being “disingenuous” saying it was regretful they would not accept the public health advice that schools are a safe, controlled environment.

Describing Ireland as an outlier when it comes to students with special educational needs not attending classes in-person, Minister Foley said opposition assertions that the plan was not thought through are wrong.

Referencing the Minister’s comments regarding the talks with teachers’ and special needs assistants’ representatives, Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhan O’Riordain said Ms Foley should not make comments in public if she wants to get a deal.

“Say what you have to say in private with those unions who have also committed to do the same thing and then potentially we may have a road map for achieving what we all want, which is that education can be delivered [to] those who need it most,” said Mr O’Riordain.

Despite the difficulties, Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants, has reaffirmed its commitment to resuming education for students with additional needs, resuming engagement with Department officials this afternoon to “improve safety provision and re-build confidence”.

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Ireland making ‘clear progress’ says CMO but Level 5 likely for February

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Ireland is making “clear progress” when it came to reducing the incidence rate of Covid-19, but still has a “very large burden of infection” according to the Chief Medical Officer.

Dr Tony Holohan added the incidence of the virus in Ireland is now 10 times higher than it was when the Government eased public health restrictions in December and the country’s efforts to drive down the rate of infection must be maintained.

His comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Level 5 restrictions will likely continue “well into” February.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking at the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) briefing Dr Holohan said: “On December 1st, when we last eased restrictions, our five-day moving average was 261 cases per day, today it is almost 10 times that number at 2,430 cases per day.

“It is evident that the population is working as one to reduce contacts and interrupt further transmission of the disease. However, we are witnessing the effects of high levels of community transmission through our hospital and ICU admissions and reported deaths.

“We need to continue to work together to drive this infection down and bring the disease back under control.”

It comes as the chief executive of the HSE said the Covid-19 situation in hospitals is at the “highest level of concern that we’ve ever had”.

Thursday saw a further 51 deaths due to Covid-19 and 2,608 new cases of Covid-19 recorded by the Department of Health.

Asked how long Covid-19 restrictions may remain in place Dr Holohan said Nphet did not have any reason to disagree with the Taoiseach’s expectations that Level 5 would continue for a number of weeks.

Dr Holohan said: “We have a very significant burden of infection. Looking at infection levels two weeks ago: they were very high, clearly very high.

“We’ve now reduced substantially in relative terms since then, but we have to look back to the beginning of December. We’re still 10 times higher.”

“It is simply a level of infection that’s way too high,” he added.

“We have further progress we have to make.”

The Taoiseach told Virgin Media’s Ireland AM that transmission rates of the virus were still too high to ease restrictions.

The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is expected to meet on Monday to finalise plans to extend the current restrictions before Cabinet ministers approve the measures at a meeting on Tuesday.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn told the briefing that more than 500 people had died of Covid-19 in Ireland so far this month.

He warned that the trend was expected to continue over the coming days.

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“Sadly so far in the month of January there have been 532 deaths associated with Covid-19,” he said. “This compares with a total of 174 such deaths in the month of December and 164 such deaths in November.”

Earlier it emerged Dr Holohan had warned the Government last week that the death toll was likely to be up to 1,000 by the end of the month.

In a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on January 14th, Dr Holohan said the latest modelling data suggested that there could be at least 25 to 30 deaths a day.

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