Coronavirus: Seven more Covid-19 linked deaths in NI

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Seven more people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 63.

There are currently 1,089 positive cases, a rise of 91 since Saturday.

In the Republic of Ireland, the deaths of a further 21 patients who had Covid-19 were confirmed on Sunday, bringing the total death toll there to 158.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar has re-registered as a medical practitioner.

The Irish Times first reported that he will work one shift a week to help out during the coronavirus crisis, according to a spokesman for his office.

Mr Varadkar worked as a doctor for seven years before leaving the profession to become a politician and was removed from the medical register in 2013. He rejoined the medical register in March.

Earlier, Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann urged the public to obey social distancing rules after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned a total ban on exercise outside the home could be introduced if rules were not respected.

"No one would want to take such a measure if it could be avoided," Mr Swann said in a statement on Sunday.

"It can be prevented if everyone continues to do the right thing. That means staying at home, only going out if it's necessary and keeping our distance if we do have to go out."

The health minister said he was aware that any further restrictions on leaving the home could have "consequences in terms of mental and physical well-being", particularly for people who do not have access to a garden or outdoor space.

Mr Swann added that he was "very encouraged" by the extent to which people across Northern Ireland were complying with social distancing rules.

However, he warned: "Any hints of complacency and impatience must be strongly resisted."

In Northern Ireland, 8,486 people have been tested for coronavirus. Testing of healthcare staff began at the SSE Arena in Belfast on Saturday.

The drive-through facility has been set up in the arena's car park, five days after similar testing centres opened in England.

image captionOn Saturday, there was a steady stream of NHS workers going into the first Covid-19 test centre for NHS staff in NI

Healthcare workers in Northern Ireland must arrange an appointment before they arrive at the testing centre as those who do not have an appointment will be turned away.

The Department of Health said the new centre "complements work undertaken by trusts to scale up their own testing capabilities".

Many NHS workers across the UK had expressed frustration over a lack of access to testing, complaining that they had to take time off work to self-isolate without knowing if they had contracted Covid-19 or not.

Food boxes for vulnerable

On Sunday, the Department for Communities announced that a new weekly service will see 10,000 food boxes delivered to the most vulnerable during the lockdown.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the service will cost £10m and will be paid for out of the emergency Covid-19 fund.

image captionThe Chinese Consulate in Belfast has been giving out PPE to Chinese students studying in the city

Containing mostly non-perishable goods, they will be delivered to those who have been notified to shield, but cannot afford food and do not have "access to local support networks", the minister said.

"From Wednesday this week we will see over 10,000 families receive food parcels and they will receive one food parcel every week over the next 12 weeks," the minister said.

"Initially, this scheme is for those 40,000 people who are shielding. We've taken the most vulnerable from that and those who don't have any other social contacts who can get them food.

"But we also know that people are in financial hardship through this period who also have to self-isolate, and we want to reach as many of them, to ensure no one goes hungry as a result of the coronavirus."

She added that they will also be available to "those who are not shielding, but are in critical need of food".

As of 09:00 BST on Sunday, 47,806 people had tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Health said.

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