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Live Reporting

Michael Sheils McNamee, Gerald Lennon and Edited by Fiona Murray

All times stated are UK

  1. Here's how things stand:

    • Twenty-two more Covid-19-related deaths have been reported by the Department of Health.
    • Health Minister Robin Swann says more than 100 military personnel, who are medically trained, will offer assistance to NI
    • Sinn Féin says it does not rule out any measures to protect health
    • The health minister says now is not the time to "open any floodgates" or take decisions that could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases
    • Mr Swann sends his best wishes to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who has been diagnosed with cancer
    • Dr Patricia Donnelly, the head of NI's vaccination programme, says it's a "huge logistical exercise"
    • "Peak of virus is this week", says Jennifer Welsh, the chief executive of the Northern Trust
    • Those over 75 can start receiving the vaccine soon - carers can start getting vaccinated in March
  2. ‘It makes you or breaks you’

    It takes many different people to run a hospital and our health team has spoken to some vital support staff.

    While nurses and doctors work on patients - in the background cleaners, porters and kitchen staff each play an important part.

    Video content

    Video caption: ‘It makes or breaks you’
  3. Sinn Féin reacts to call for military assistance

    In this afternoon's press conference, Mr Swann says he "sincerely hoped" there would be no opposition from his colleagues in the NI Executive to the military assisting the health service.

    Ahead of the press conference, Sinn Féin issued a statement saying its priority throughout the pandemic has been to save lives, keep people safe and protect the health service.

    "The minister of health has made a request for staffing support from the British Ministry of Defence," the party said.

    "We do not rule out any measures to do so, and any effort to make the threat posed by Covid-19 into a green and orange issue is divisive and a distraction."

    Workers in a hospital
  4. Police investigate incident outside NI vaccine centre

    Covid-19 vaccine being administered.

    Police are investigating after a group of people handing out anti-vaccine flyers approached health-care workers outside the Craigavon vaccine centre.

    The flyers contained misinformation about the contents of the vaccine.

    One of those attending the clinic said they felt "very intimidated" after being approached.

    Read more here.

  5. Carers to start getting vaccinated in March

    Care home

    Dr Patricia Donnelly, the head of the vaccination programme, goes on to discuss when people in the priority group six could expect to receive their vaccine.

    She adds that vaccinations of those in receipt of a carers allowance or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person, whose welfare may be at risk, will begin in March.

    "We will try and do this earlier if we can manage it, subject to the vaccine availability" added Dr Donnelly.

  6. Theatre nurses and anaesthetists 'needed for surgeries'

    Nurses in hospital ward

    Responding to questions, Mr Swann says the inability to provide cancer operations is dependent on theatre nurses and anesthetists - who have been redeployed.

    Mr Swann says this is the case, even though there may be theatres and surgeons available.

    Jennifer Welsh from the Northern Trust says some cancer surgery is ongoing at the Causeway Hospital.

  7. 'Sadness and despair' witnessed by staff

    Jennifer Welsh from the Northern Trust says the mental health impact of Covid on the public and health service workers is "an ongoing story."

    She says staff in the health service "have gone well beyond what could reasonably be expected of them".

    She says some people are off on Covid-related absence and other absences.

    Ms Welsh says the "sadness and despair" health service staff have had to witness could have an long-term impact.

    Woman in despair
  8. Ready to start vaccinating those over 75 in NI

    Nurse with vaccine

    Dr Patricia Donnelly says there are enough supplies to vaccinate all over 80s in NI and they can now make a start on those aged 75 and over.

    She adds that they have now completed vaccinating all care homes, other than a small number that have been involved in an outbreak.

    "My message to the public is please bear with us, we'll move as quickly as supplies permit," adds Dr Donnelly.

    "We will all have to be patient, so please wait for your GP to contact you, they want to vaccinate you as soon as possible.

    "As things currently stand, we don't have enough vaccines to complete all over 75 year-olds but we expect that to change in the very near future, with deliveries expected next week."

  9. 'Peak of virus this week' says Trust chief

    Jennifer Welsh, the chief executive of the Northern Trust, says all of the modelling predictions made available to the health trusts indicate the peak of the virus will come this week.

    She says the number of ICU admissions are expected to continue to increase.

    "We are confident that we will be able to deal with the expected numbers," she says, but adds that this will come at a cost.

    She says theatre staff have been redeployed to deal with the demands, and has meant it has not been able to deal with elective surgeries, including cancer.

    Jennifer Welsh
  10. Vaccination programme is 'huge logistical exercise'

    Covid-19 vaccination

    Dr Patricia Donnelly, the head of NI's vaccination programme, says the current programme is the "biggest... any of us have ever seen and hopefully ever likely to see".

    She adds that the programme is a "huge logistical exercise" and it is not without its "challenges and frustrations".

    "We've made a very good start, but we say that with the knowledge that there's a long way to go."

  11. Swann sends best wishes to Edwin Poots

    Edwin Poots

    Mr Swann sends his best wishes to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who has been diagnosed with cancer.

    Mr Poots has a cancerous growth on his kidney.

    He told the BBC's Stephen Nolan the prognosis is good but he needs surgery.

    The health minister expresses his regret that "he is not the only one anxiously awaiting surgery".

    He then moves on to make some comments about the longer term future of NI's health service, saying that "rebuilding will require significant and long-term investment".

    Mr Swann expresses his view there is a need for "a long-term financial settlement for health and social care" for the service, which addresses "waiting lists, staffing and staffing support".

  12. 'Not the time to open any floodgates'

    Coronavirus

    Health Minister Robin Swann says that now is not the time to "open any floodgates" or take decisions that could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

    Speaking at Stormont's press briefing, he also confirms that the executive will review the current lockdown regulations tomorrow.

    "We have to stay the course on this as individuals, as a society and as an executive" adds Mr Swann.

    "There is hope because we have made a really encouraging start to our vaccination programme."

    Mr Swann says he will not pre-empt the outcome of Thursday's meeting but confirms he will bring recommendations to the meeting from his officials.

  13. 'Encouraging start to vaccination programme' says Swann

    Mr Swann continues by saying there has been "a really encouraging start to our vaccination programme".

    He says that, so far, there have been 160,396 vaccinations given, out of which 21,960 have been second doses.

    He urges the public to be patient with the roll-out of the vaccination programme.

    "We can only vaccinate people when we have vaccines available."

    Vaccine
  14. Military decision 'not divisive'

    Health Minister Robin Swann opens by speaking about the introduction of the military to NI's Covid response.

    He says it would have been an abdication of responsibility if he did not avail of help from the military.

    Mr Swann says up to this point the Army has previously transported seriously ill patients from NI to England, and provided logistical advice.

    "[I have said] if I thought our armed forces could be of further help, I would not shy away from their support," he says.

    "We have now reached that stage."

    Robin Swann

    Mr Swann says more than 100 military personnel, who are medically trained, will be provided

    The minister says he sincerely hopes "this will not be viewed as a divisive decision, because I assure you it is not".

    “Our armed forces have medical expertise and, as I have said, it would have been an abdication of responsibility on my part if we didn’t avail of that.”

  15. Press conference getting under way

    Health Minister Robin Swann is approaching the podium, where he will update us on the situation with coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

    He'll then take questions from journalists.

  16. Military brought in to help medical staff

    Members of the military are to be brought in to help medical staff in Northern Ireland in the fight against Covid-19.

    Health Minister Robin Swann has asked the Ministry of Defence to help out, primarily at a number of hospitals across NI.

    More than 100 medically-trained military personnel will be deployed.

    Read more here.

    A person in military fatigues with a red cross on their arm
  17. North West 200 cancelled again

    The North West 200 road racing event has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic for a second year in a row.

    Organisers say government and public health advice regarding the effects of Covid-19 meant it would be "impossible to run" the Northern Ireland meeting.

    The North West 500

    There had been a contingency plan to delay the 2021 races from May until August, but it was felt that would be too great a risk.

    A provisional date of 8-14 May has been set for next year's event.

    Read more here.

  18. Another 22 deaths

    Twenty-two more Covid-19-related deaths have been reported by the Department of Health.

    It brings its total to 1,671

    Graphic showing number of deaths
  19. Good afternoon

    Good afternoon and welcome to our live coverage of today's coronavirus press conference.

    It features Health Minister Robin Swann, as well as Patricia Donnelly, head of the vaccine programme and Jennifer Welsh, who is Chief Executive of the Northern Trust .

    Please stay with us for all the latest developments.