Stormont ministers are unlikely to ease lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland when they meet later on Thursday to review them.
A six-week lockdown began on 26 December to help control a spike in Covid-19 cases. Many sectors had to close and the executive pledged to review the lockdown after four weeks.
But NI’s health service is set to face bigger pressures this weekend than at any other time during the pandemic. While it is thought the number of hospital admissions has peaked, Health Minister Robin Swann said intensive care pressures were likely to increase further in the next week. He has announced that members of the military are to be brought in to help medical staff in Northern Ireland in the fight against Covid-19.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Swann said he would not pre-empt the outcome of Thursday’s meeting but confirmed he would bring recommendations from his officials.
Ministers and health officials have said the restrictions have had an impact on the reproductive rate of the virus – known as the R-number – which measures the infection rate of Covid-19. It had risen to about 1.8 due to Christmas relaxations.
By last week, it had fallen to between 0.7 and 0.9 for cases within the community, but was still sitting between 1.2 and 1.4 for hospital admissions.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride warned that the virus would not “magically disappear” on 6 February, He said as many as possible clinically vulnerable people would need to have received their first vaccine before “significant relaxations” could be considered by the executive.