There have been six further Covid-related deaths reported by the Department of Health today (Wednesday).
Five of those occurred in the last 24 hours with one just outside that timeframe – according to the official dashboard – which has the overall total now at 1,311.
There have been one further death in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon borough, where the total number of lives lost is now 136. The death toll in the Newry, Mourne and Down district remains at 84. A total of 112 – up one – people have sadly died in the Mid Ulster region.
There were a further 2,143 cases reported in in the last 24 hours, with 319 in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and a further 240 in Newry, Mourne and Down. There were 236 cases in Mid Ulster.
A total of 5,098 individuals were tested.
The rate of infection for 100,000 of the population remains highest in the BT60 postcode at a rate of 514.5, with the BT61 postcode the second worst in NI.
There are 492 – up 30 from yesterday – people now in hospital as a result of the virus, 35 of whom are in intensive care units.
There are currently 23 ICU beds available in Northern Ireland.
Eighty-one patients are in Craigavon. To date, 729 patients have been discharged from the Co. Armagh hospital.
There are 21 Covid patients in Daisy Hill, with 10 in Lurgan Hospital.
The latest figures come as a second vaccine has been given the go-ahead in the UK.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine boosts our confidence that better times are ahead in 2021.
The approval by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) paves the way for a significant acceleration of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme.
But the Minister has also warned that the coming weeks will be among the most challenging yet in the pandemic, with our health service under immense pressure.
He said: “Today’s announcement is extremely welcome news and helps us look forward to the New Year with optimism and hope.
“The vaccine programme will transform the situation but that will take time. Between now and then, we need another big push to get through these next few months. We can all play our part in supporting the health service and in protecting each other from Covid-19.
“Please follow the public health advice to stop it spreading and please strictly abide by the current lockdown rules.”
The approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine means Northern Ireland GPs can begin the first phase of population vaccination from January 4, starting with those aged 80 years and over.
The programme will then be rolled out based on age and other clinical vulnerability factors. Prioritisation will be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The rate of progress will depend on the availability of the vaccine, in terms of both manufacture and supply.
50,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are currently available to Northern Ireland, with delivery having been arranged in advance of today’s announcement. Further supplies are expected early in the New Year.