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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. Goodbye for now

    whiteabbey

    Thanks for joining us on our live page today.

    It has been another busy day of news linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

    We'll leave you with Sharon Scott's picture of some ominous looking clouds above Whiteabbey Green earlier today.

    We'll be back again at 07:30 tomorrow. Take care until then.

  2. Series of lockdown relaxations announced

    Let's take a final look at the announcements made this evening:

    They include:

    • The reopening of indoor fitness studios and gyms; bingo halls and amusement arcades; outdoor playgrounds, courts and gyms; and cinemas from 10 July
    • The resumption of horse racing and outdoor equestrian competitions and outdoor competitive games and sporting events from 11 July for grassroots and professional sport but with no spectators allowed
    • Amendments to the International Travel Regulations, removing the need for self-isolation for those travelling to Northern Ireland from low to medium risk countries.
    Woman on bus with face mask

    The executive has also ratified earlier commitments:

    • The resumption of indoor weddings and baptisms in places of worship from 10 July
    • The resumption from the same date of marriage and civil partnership services in local government offices and other venues
    • The mandatory use of face coverings on public transport from 10 July unless someone is in an exempt group
    • The reopening of libraries from 16 July, with protocols enacted to ensure social distancing
    • The reopening of indoor sport and leisure facilities, including skating rinks and leisure centres on 17 July, but excluding swimming pools
  3. Travel advice 'not watered down'- Foster

    The changes in the quarantine regulations come in the wake of a document given to the health minister advising that travellers from the rest of the UK present "the greatest risk" of bringing Covid-19 into NI.

    But the BBC understands that advice from the executive's chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, was later amended to remove that wording.

    First Minister Arlene Foster dismissed suggestions that the original advice had been watered down.

    Belfast International Airport

    “As with all leaks you should be careful of the date on the paper, that was an older paper never discussed at the executive, things change," she told a press conference.

    "These things only cover travel outside of the Common Travel Area - these regulations were never going to apply in any event to UK travel.

    "The absolute risk of people entering NI from the rest of the UK has gone down dramatically. The chief medical officer wanted to make us aware of that today.”

  4. New quarantine regulations due tomorrow - Foster

    Arlene Foster

    New quarantine regulations should come into force tomorrow, the first minister has confirmed.

    Arlene Foster said necessary changes to the regulations should be done tonight, paving the way for changes tomorrow.

    It means people arriving in Northern Ireland from more than 50 countries including France, Spain, Germany and Italy will soon no longer need to quarantine.

    The Stormont Executive agreed the changes after a review of the travel regulations.

    Until now anyone entering Northern Ireland from outside the Common Travel Area must isolate for 14 days.

    She said it meant people could go on holidays to countries like Spain and France and not have to quarantine when they come back to Northern Ireland.

    "We will keep looking at those countries if they move from amber to red we would need to advise the public of that," she told a press conference in Fermanagh.

  5. NI's R number is between 0.5 and 1

    An illustration of Northern Ireland's R rate, which is between 0.5 and 1

    The R number in Northern Ireland is estimated to be between 0.5 and 1, according to the Department of Health.

    The R number, or reproduction number, is a way of rating a disease's ability to spread.

    It is the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to, on average.

    Health officials have urged caution around the R number due to the low number of new cases and a "robust testing programme and test/trace/protect strategy".

    In guidance issued alongside the new figure today, it says "R is no longer regarded as the most important indicator for the purposes of policy decisions".

    "The number of positive tests per day is likely to be a more important parameter in the context of planning," it said.

    "At present R will show a high degree of volatility and may be heavily influenced by small changes in numbers, and therefore may give a misleading impression of the state of the epidemic."

  6. Trinity College Dublin's Covid-19 vaccine research

    Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have been given almost €5m (£4.4m) in funding to research treatments for Covid-19.

    They will also focus on the design of effective vaccines that are being developed by experts across the globe.

    “What's happening right now is, it's a very quick rush to get a vaccine, and they're using existing technology that they have applied to other infections. What we're doing is finding ways of refining that,” Professor Kingston Mills told RTÉ.

    corona swabs

    Alongside that Professor Luke O'Neill’s lab discovered a very potent anti-inflammatory molecule called Itaconate two years ago, and they are now working flat out to see if it can be used to block the inflammation on Covid-19 and stop people dying.

    “You've never seen some many vaccines being tested," Prof ONeill said.

    "We know a huge amount about how vaccines work. Three of them are in phase three – one of them is in humans already.

    "There's 170 in total - one of those has to work and if it doesn’t by God we’re unlikely," he added.

    "Four drug companies are now collaborating on a single vaccine and never before in history have we seen the big competitors do this. It's like Coke and Pepsi joining to make a new product," said Prof O'Neill.

    "People ask me I being overly optimistic? All I can say is it's I can't think of anything else we should be doing. Everything's been thrown at this and, but a bit of luck we will get there," he added.

  7. Queen's offers about 2,500 guaranteed places

    Robbie Meredith

    BBC News NI Arts and Education Correspondent

    Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) has offered guaranteed places to about 2,500 Northern Ireland students before they get their A-level results.

    The university said the "unprecedented step" would "reduce anxiety and provide clarity for young people".

    The places represent about 70% of QUB's 2020 intake of NI undergraduates.

    Both Queen's and Ulster universities had previously said they could face multi-million-pound losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Exterior of Queeb's University Belfast

    Queen's' move appears to contradict previous warnings from Economy Minister Diane Dodds against the university setting its own admission procedures.

    Ms Dodds had previously said there should be a co-ordinated approach across UK universities to avoid "pressurising students with unconditional and incentivised offers this year".

    However, in a statement the Vice-Chancellor of QUB, Professor Ian Greer, said the university had "received strong support for this intervention, notably from many school principals and local business leaders".

    Read more here.

  8. Quarantine rules to be eased for more than 50 countries

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI political reporter

    People arriving in Northern Ireland from more than 50 countries including France, Spain, Germany and Italy will soon no longer need to quarantine.

    The executive agreed the changes after a review of the travel regulations.

    Currently anyone entering from outside the Common Travel Area must isolate for 14 days.

    It brings Northern Ireland into line with England and Scotland, where travel relaxations take effect on Friday.

    The executive said there will be "no self-isolation requirement for those travelling to Northern Ireland from low to medium risk countries".

    It is likely that the changes will be laid tonight and take effect tomorrow.

    International Airport

    Ministers also agreed at Thursday's meeting to bring foward some more changes to the lockdown restrictions.

    From Friday 10 July, bingo halls and amusement arcades can open along with cinemas.

    They were not due to open until 29 July.

    The executive also agreed that outdoor horse racing and equestrian competitions can resume from 11 July with only those needed for the event being able to attend.

    Outdoor competitive games and sporting events can also start again from Saturday.

    This covers both grass roots and professional competitive games and events but no spectators will be allowed.

    The executive has also brought forward the date for leisure centres to reopen.

    They were due to open on 7 August but now they have been told they can reopen from 17 July, along with indoor sports courts, soft play areas and skating rinks.

    However, this does not include swimming pools.

  9. Taxes will rise to pay for economic measures, IFS think tank warns

    Rishi Sunak

    Taxpayers face a day of reckoning when the government's massive coronavirus support measures have to be paid off, experts warn.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank says the economy will remain in a "support and recovery" phase for some time, but higher taxes are inevitable.

    On Wednesday, the chancellor unveiled another £30bn of support, bringing the total cost to £190bn.

    But it was revealed the UK's tax authority queried its value for money.

    The most senior civil servant at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the value of two measures in his summer statement - the job retention bonus and the eating out discount scheme.

    Read more here

  10. 'An aircraft might be the cleanest place for anybody to be'

    Aviation expert Julian Bray has told the BBC's Talkback programme that contracting Covid-19 on a plane would be difficult.

    "All planes have HEPA filters, the same filters used in operating theatres," he said.

    "All the air goes into these filters and back into the aircraft which takes out the virus. The air is constantly moving.

    "An aircraft might be the cleanest place for anybody to be."

    Plane cabin

    Mr Bray was speaking as the NI Executive met to discuss quarantine regulations.

    "There's a big argument over whether we were too late (to introduce quarantine regulations), but what's right for us possibly isn't what's right for New Zealand," he said.

    "We have to look at our own circumstances and work it out that way."

  11. PPE delivery for dentists is 'colossal'

    Louise Cullen

    BBC News NI

    PPE

    The amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be distributed to dentists is “colossal”, the acting chief dental officer has told Stormont's Health Committee.

    Michael Donaldson says it will require 30 articulated lorries and more than 700 pallets of PPE.

    The Business Services Organisation is working with a distribution company to make the delivery happen from next week, but he said, it is “very challenging”.

    Read more on this story here.

  12. DoH considers how to impose local lockdowns

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI political reporter

    The Department of Health is giving consideration to how local lockdowns could be imposed if parts of NI see a rise in cases of coronavirus, a Stormont committee has heard.

    The department's Chief Environmental Officer Nigel McMahon told MLAs it was something officials had been talking to colleagues and legal advisers about.

    "It's very much in our minds and we do plan to bring something more concrete to the executive in the near future," he said.

    He added that it would form part of other proposals Health Minister Robin Swann would need to bring to the executive regarding the coronavirus regulations.

  13. No further Covid-19 deaths reported

    There have been no new Covid-19 related deaths recorded by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health in the past 24 hours, meaning its death figures remain at 554.

    The department’s daily figures are mostly comprised of hospital deaths, where a patient had previously tested positive for the virus.

    The latest figures on the department’s dashboard show the total number of confirmed positive cases of the virus now stands at 5,768, with three new positive tests recorded in the past 24 hours.

    No patients with Covid-19 are currently being treated in intensive care in Northern Ireland's hospitals.

    The table showing the latest number of deaths and cases
  14. PPE delivery should 'enable 38,000 patients to be seen each week'

    Louise Cullen

    BBC News NI

    Dentist

    Back at Stormont's Health Committee - and members have heard that figures suggest about 11,000 patients were treated last week, as dentists move through their phased return to full routine care provision.

    The acting chief dental officer, Michael Donaldson, said the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) next week should enable an estimated 38,000 patients to be seen each week, which is a “very significant advance” on the 4,000 emergency patients seen weekly during the pandemic.

    He said the restriction of dentistry during the pandemic had a detrimental impact on the population’s dental health, but an increase in patients who are able to be seen would help address levels of dental disease, and that the service was “keeping on top” of urgent cases.

    Most dental practices in Northern Ireland have at least some element of NHS-based dental care provision.

    Read more on this story here.

  15. Businesses and staff 'still suffering financially'

    Money

    Businessman Frank Shivers has told Talkback we are "a far way off from normality for businesses in Northern Ireland".

    "There are a lot of businesses still suffering financially and employees suffering financially and we do need to get the economy up and running as soon as possible," he said.

    "With the caveat that we have to try and control this virus as best we can."

    Mr Shivers was speaking as the Stormont Executive has been meeting to discuss whether changes can be made to NI's quarantine regulations.

    It is understood advice forming part of the document from Health Minister Robin Swann has been amended.

    A previous draft advised that travellers from the rest of the UK present "the greatest risk" of bringing Covid-19 into NI.

    However, BBC News NI has seen a revised version which does not include that specific wording.

    Mr Shivers said: "We have to move towards some sort of normality and having a situation where we would even contemplate stopping people from the mainland UK coming into Northern Ireland would further impact our economy and the disaster we have at the present moment."

  16. Boots and John Lewis announce job cuts

    Two of the UK's biggest High Street retailers, John Lewis and Boots, have announced 5,300 job cuts.

    Boots has said 4,000 jobs will go, while John Lewis is shutting down eight stores, putting 1,300 jobs at risk.

    John Lewis said it had to "secure the business's long-term future and respond to customers' shopping needs".

    Boots said it was consulting on plans to restructure its head office and store teams and close 48 Boots Opticians stores.

    Read more on this story here.

    John Lewis
  17. BBC to go ahead with over-75s licence fee changes

    The BBC is to go ahead with a plan to end free TV licences for most over-75s, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    That means more than 3m households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee from 1 August.

    Only households where someone receives the pension credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence.

    The controversial change was originally due to be made on 1 June, and the BBC said the delay had cost £35m a month.

    An image showing a TV Licensing document

    Free TV licences for the over-75s have been provided by the government since 2000, but responsibility for the provision was passed to the BBC as part of its last licence fee settlement.

    Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday before the latest announcement, Labour's shadow culture minister Christian Matheson warned that many pensioners could be "forced to choose between eating and watching TV".

    He said: "The BBC is cutting jobs and content to pay for the cost of the licence dumped on them by the government."

    Culture Minister Matt Warman said the "BBC has had a generous licence fee settlement and it is deeply disappointing that they have chosen to go down the path that they apparently are going down".

    Read more here.

  18. Health service 'fighting a battle', acting chief dental officer says

    Louise Cullen

    BBC News NI

    The acting chief dental officer has told Stormont's Health Committee the health service is “fighting a short-term and a long-term battle”.

    Michael Donaldson said oral health groups, concentrating on children and older people, that were being created at the start of the year, will be revived as quickly as possible.

    He said the challenges posed by Covid-19 were considerable, and it was just a question of how quickly those groups could be put together.

    He also said that level one personal protective equipment (PPE) for dental services, announced by Health Minister Robin Swann last week, should start to be delivered from next week.

    Level one PPE is for non-aerosol generating procedures.

    Personal Protective Equipment

    Mr Donaldson said dentists had asked the Business Services Organisation (BSO) if level two PPE would be available at the same time.

    He said that supply could not be provided without “possibly affecting the ability to provide to trusts and the wider health service".

    He said dental practices usually source their own PPE and work with smaller providers than the BSO to secure it.

    Mr Donaldson added that the financial support provided should mean adequate funding to allow level two PPE to be purchased.

    Read more on this story here.

  19. Chancellor 'sorry' he cannot protect all jobs

    Rishi Sunak

    The chancellor says he is "sorry" for not helping "everyone in exactly the way they would have wanted".

    Rishi Sunak said the government was "throwing everything we can" to stem job losses with the plans unveiled yesterday.

    But he will not be able to protect "every single job" as the UK enters a "severe recession".

    He admitted some of the bonuses to take back furloughed staff would go to firms that were already keeping workers on.

    The UK is "borrowing record amounts", he said, but "it is the right thing".

    Figures released by the Treasury reveal that public spending on the battle against coronavirus has risen to nearly £190bn.

    Read more on this story here.

  20. Revised version of travel advice omits GB risk

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI political reporter

    The executive is meeting to discuss whether changes can be made to NI's quarantine regulations.

    But it is understood advice forming part of the document from Health Minister Robin Swann has been amended.

    A previous draft advised that travellers from the rest of the UK present “the greatest risk” of bringing Covid-19 into NI.

    However BBC News NI has seen a revised version which does not include that specific wording.

    The document now being considered by ministers states that "travellers from any country with a prevalence higher than NI using the UK government methodology will have somewhat increased risk of being infected".

    However, there are still likely to be "more travellers to NI from the rest of the UK" than other countries, it adds.

    airport

    The paper from Mr Swann's department was formed following advice from the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser.

    It is not clear if Stormont ministers will agree to amend NI's international coronavirus regulations, despite calls from tourism and travel operators for air bridges to be announced.

    Currently anyone entering NI from outside the Common Travel Area must isolate for 14 days.

    Northern Ireland's quarantine rules took effect on 8 June, with fines of up to £1,000 possible for those caught leaving isolation prematurely.