Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: MoT centres and SSE Arena will be test facilities

MOT centre

MoT test centres in Northern Ireland and Belfast's SSE Arena are to be re-purposed as coronavirus test centres, BBC News NI understands.

A Covid-19 test centre on Belfast's Balmoral Road will come into operation next week.

It is understood that health trusts across Northern Ireland are assessing suitability of other MoT centres.

The car lifts at the Balmoral centre have been removed and been filled with gravel in preparation.

Last week, all MoT tests at the 15 government-owned vehicle test centres in Northern Ireland were cancelled after new coronavirus restrictions were introduced.

The centres are expected to facilitate drive-through coronavirus tests, so those being tested can remain in their vehicles.

The Belfast Trust said it was currently working with the Department of Health and Department for Infrastructure to assess the suitability of using the MoT centre at Balmoral for Covid-19 testing.

Meanwhile, the SSE Arena - which normally hosts concerts and ice hockey tournaments - is in the process of being reconfigured as an NHS-testing facility.

It is not known when it will open.

On Tuesday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove admitted the UK had to go "further, faster" to increase testing.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has warned that Northern Ireland will have to prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19 later this year, in the absence of a vaccine.

Modelling to help prepare for the surge in cases this season has shown social distancing measures is “crucially important” in enabling the health system to cope.

The study sets out a "reasonable worst case scenario", assuming a two-thirds reduction in contacts due to social distancing, and 70% of those with symptoms self-isolating.

The modelling suggests the peak hospital admissions would be about 500 per week, 180 patients would need ventilation and 3,000 people would lose their lives during 20 weeks of the epidemic.

The study indicates the peak of the first wave will be between 6 and 20 April.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Research indicates that our health service would have a realistic prospect of coping in this initial period if a sufficient proportion of the population adhere to the social distancing and self-isolation measures."

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Image caption New graves have been dug at Sixmile Cemetery in Antrim

The news comes as Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council confirmed it has begun preparing graves in advance of an expected surge of deaths.

The council said it had started "preparatory works" at its new Sixmile Cemetery in Antrim in case there was widespread sickness among staff at a later date.

“We have to fulfil our statutory duties, one of which is the provision of burials," said a council statement.

"We have undertaken [the preparation of graves] to ensure we can meet this requirement, particularly in the context where we might experience any reduction in cemeteries' staff due to illness.”

While it is not known how many graves are being dug, a number of diggers, dumpers and council workers dressed in protective clothing have been pictured at the site this week.

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