Monday, March 01, 2021

By Michael McHugh and David Young, PA

Covid-19 vaccinations have been extended to people aged 60 to 64 in Northern Ireland.

Those eligible are urged to book online for appointments at health trust mass vaccination centres, the region’s Department of Health said.

More than half a million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the North.

Stormont ministers have asked civil servants to finalise details of Northern Ireland’s lockdown exit strategy.

Ministers met on Monday morning to examine the plan for a gradual easing of restrictions in the region.

It is understood officials have been asked to clarify some areas before the Executive formally signs off on the blueprint.

It is now looking more likely that the strategy will be made public on Tuesday. Ministers are due to meet again on Tuesday morning.

Executive discussions on Monday are understood to have been of a technical nature, with ministers generally in agreement on the shape of the document.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill plan to unveil it on the floor of the Stormont Assembly when it is ready.

Data, not dates

Ministers have already made clear the blueprint will be led by data, not dates.

The plan is likely to outline the sequence in which current lockdown restrictions will lift, with moves taken when the public health situation allows.

The initial phase is understood to titled “cautious first steps”.

Mrs Foster has said the devolved executive will review the level of restrictions every three weeks.

Northern Ireland’s current lockdown and accompanying stay-at-home message is in place until April 1st. Ministers are due to review that policy on March 18th.

The executive has already outlined plans for a phased return of face-to-face learning at schools in Northern Ireland.

Only vulnerable children and those of key workers have been attending classes in mainstream schools since January. No date has so far been given for the return of the wider school population.

On Monday, one more person was confirmed to have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland as a further 138 people tested positive.

A total of 258 hospital beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients, with 34 people in intensive care.

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