As predicted, the Executive is progressing gradually and cautiously with an easing of restrictions. Up to 15 people from an unlimited number of households are able to meet in gardens from Monday.

Close contact services are able to accept walk-in customers and appointments can overlap.

Ministers have delayed decisions on further restrictions as Covid rates continue to spiral upwards. Ministers agreed to meet again next Monday and then on Thursday to see if they can press ahead with other relaxations that had originally been earmarked for next week such as theatres and concerts and guidance only about masks in church.

Users trying to avail of a Northern Covid certificate in order to travel have been left frustrated after facing a number of technical errors on the system. The online certificate was introduced on Tuesday last for those who were due to travel abroad up until Sunday 25 July.

The portal on the NI Direct website gives users a downloadable certificate and QR code that they can use as proof of being fully vaccinated and will permit international travel where proof is required.

The Department of Health has urged the public to be patient with its temporary Covid ‘passport’ scheme. It has blamed changing entry requirements of other countries which are beyond their control.

The public have been asked to only use the system if travelling in the coming days and use the online portal as opposed to contacting its helpline. The online certificate scheme was introduced on Tuesday, July 20 to cover those going abroad until last Sunday. This temporary measure is to be replaced this week with a new app (from Monday). Many have complained of issues around the need for ID checks and scanning passports. Although a paper version of the certificate is available, it can take up to 10 days to process.

Covid certification may be required for concerts and, perhaps, to use the £100 high street vouchers in the autumn.

It is estimated that 21,000 people in the North are suffering from long Covid but there is insufficient data locally to allow for a thorough analysis.  More patients report symptoms long after the 12 week recovery period and these include fatigue, breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, ‘brain fog’, memory loss, lack of concentration and depression.

The North has now the highest rate of Covid in the UK. A total of 9,832 new cases were recorded in the seven days to 21 July, a rate of 519.2 cases per 100,000. This is the highest rate since 9 January. 

In the past week, there have been 1,473 new cases reported out of 4,540 tested and, sadly, three deaths recorded with the toll now standing at 2,173.

Nine hospitals are over capacity. There are 243 Covid cases in hospital and 29 in intensive care. The lag time between new cases and hospitalisation is about eight days. A total of 151,096 have been diagnosed since the start of the pandemic. 

The Department of Health would like to vaccinate 90 per cent of the population by the end of July as vaccination is still seen as our best way out of this pandemic.