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Live Reporting

Amy Stewart, Eimear Flanagan, Damien Edgar and Ciaran McCauley

All times stated are UK

  1. Crime 'down 30%' since lockdown compared to 2019

    PSNI officer on patrol

    Police say crime has dropped 30% overall in Northern Ireland since lockdown began on 23 March, compared to the same period last year.

    The figures cover the six-week period between 23 March and 3 May, with the decrease attributable in people having restrictions on their movement,

    Sexual offences have almost halved, while there have been dramatic falls in the number of robbery and theft crimes.

    Graph showing crimes figures in the past six weeks

    While offences are down across the board, there has been twice as many homicides in that period - six - as there were last year.

    These figures represent crimes which have been recorded by police, so it is not clear what impact lockdown measures may have had on people's reporting of offences.

  2. Covid-19 across Europe

    A further 83 deaths because of coronavirus have been reported in France, taking the country's total number of fatalities to 27,074.

    The directorate general of health in the country says 2,428 patients are in intensive care, with 69 new serious cases in the last 24 hours.

    The relatively low number of deaths reported today comes after an increase of 348 on Tuesday and 263 on Monday.

    The US, the UK, Italy and Spain are the only other countries to have reported more than 27,000 coronavirus fatalities.

    France had overtaken Spain but slipped back to fifth highest in the world as Spain announced 184 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total there to 27,104.

    Meanwhile,Italy reported 195 deaths on Wednesday, against 172 the day before, bringing the total to 31,106.

  3. Taoiseach hints he favours re-opening schools before autumn

    Shane Harrison

    BBC NI Dublin correspondent

    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has strongly hinted that he favours re-opening schools before the autumn.

    He said there is emerging evidence that re-opening schools and childcare facilities safely over the next few months is "among the safest things" that can be done.

    With exams cancelled, it was expected schools in Ireland would not re-open until after the summer.

    kids

    The taoiseach said that Mike Ryan from the World Health Organisation had told him and Irish Health Minister Simon Harris there was "emerging evidence" that such a development would "allow children to return to education and to return to normal life".

    Mr Varadkar added that it was "very significant" that there is growing evidence that children are at the least risk from the virus and that they do not appear to be super spreaders.

    But hours after Mr Varadkar's comments, the Republic's Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was not anticipating any changes in the planned return to school for children.

    Read more here.

  4. Exam bodies criticised for 'Christmas-cancelling' transfer test delay

    Robbie Meredith

    BBC News NI Arts and Education Correspondent

    boy writes

    The organisations who run the transfer tests have been accused of "cancelling Christmas" for Primary Six pupils.

    Representatives from the Association of Quality Education (AQE) and Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) faced questions from MLAs on Stormont's Education Committee on Wednesday.

    The 2020 transfer tests have been delayed by at least two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The tests are used by the vast majority of NI grammar schools to admit pupils.

    Darrin Barr from the AQE told MLAs that they had sought to delay holding the tests until January 2021, but that had not been possible.

    Read more.

  5. Allowing family gatherings in England 'complicated'

    With lockdown guidelines easing in different areas of the UK, one of the big questions has been if and when people can visit family members.

    Earlier, England's deputy chief medical officer said allowing family gatherings is an "important public health issue" but added it is "complicated" to make the rules fair.

    Dr Jenny Harries said such a move could provide a "mental health boost".

    Dr Jenny Harries

    But she said if two large families wanted to meet "you end up effectively with quite a large gathering".

    In England, some lockdown measures have been eased but restrictions on how many people you are allowed to meet remain in place.

    Large gatherings of people are currently banned but two people from different households can meet in outdoor settings, such as parks - as long as they stay more than two metres apart.

    Read in full.

  6. PM quizzed over 'unexplained' care home deaths

    Boris Johnson must account for official figures showing 10,000 "unexplained" deaths in care homes last month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.

    Sir Keir said there were 18,000 more deaths in April than the average for that month, but only 8,000 were recorded as coronavirus-related.

    He said the government had been "too slow to protect people in care homes".

    boris john son

    Mr Johnson said there "is much more to do but we are making progress" on reducing the pandemic in care homes.

    And he announced a further £600m to fight infections in care homes in England.

    Read more here.

  7. Vue sets out cinema reopening plan with physical distancing

    The cinema chain Vue has laid out a plan to reopen cinemas using physical distancing measures - as soon as the government gives the green light.

    Vue does not operate any cinemas in Northern Ireland but it does run three in the Republic. Its plans to reopen will likely be keenly monitored by cinema operators here and across the UK.

    The chain said families could safely sit together, away from strangers, to watch movies.

    Screening times would be staggered, and there would also be enhanced cleaning.

    Vue

    The government has said some hospitality businesses like cinemas could reopen from 4 July - depending on how the pandemic progresses.

    Read more here.

  8. Here's what's happened on Wednesday...

    Here's what you need to know to get caught up on a busy day in Northern Ireland:

    • A further two coronavirus-related deaths were reported by NI's Department of Health, taking its total, mostly comprising of hospital deaths, to 449
    • The Nightingale Hospital in Northern Ireland is to be temporarily stood down
    • Up to 40 health and social care nurses are being deployed to support testing in care homes here, health minister Robin Swann says. The minister is also actively considering more financial support for care homes
    • The Department of Health in Ireland have announced a further 10 deaths, bringing the overall death toll there to 1,497
  9. Dealing with digital poverty during lockdown

    Video content

    Video caption: Dealing with digital poverty in lockdown

    Lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the use of online technology to assist children in their home schooling.

    Head of Barnardo's Northern Ireland Michele Janes said it has led to concerns for some families dealing with so-called digital poverty.

    "A lot of our families either don't have access to the devices or they don't have access to the money for the extra data because the electricity bill has gone up now because we're charging and watching so many things at the minute."

  10. Marks & Spencer to reopen some cafes for takeaway

    Marks & Spencer is to reopen 49 of its cafes across the UK from Thursday, the retailer has said.

    It took the decision to reopen for takeaway customers after operating social distancing and putting extra hygiene measures in its stores.

    The Boucher Road store in Belfast is on the list of stores where the cafe will reopen for takeaways.

    high street

    The retailer joins other chains reopening for takeaway customers.

    Pret a Manger and Caffe Nero are reopening sites, while fast food chains McDonalds and Burger King are opening up drive-throughs.

    Marks & Spencer cafes have been closed since 18 March, five days before the UK lockdown began.

    Read more.

  11. Not 'job done' - but perhaps a turning point

    Mark Devenport

    BBC News NI Political Editor

    It would be entirely premature to say "job done" now that Northern Ireland's only nightingale hospital has been stood down temporarily.

    If you recall, Belfast City Hospital was transformed as a result of the pandemic and was meant to have a 230-bed capacity to treat Covid-19 patients.

    I think Health Minister Robin Swann said that at its height more than 30 beds were being used - I've read elsewhere it was 35.

    There was also a second plan, which proved controversial, to build a second nightingale hospital at the site of the former Maze prison.

    The controversy was about whether there was going to be military involvement in the construction project.

    Staff clap for carers outside Belfast's Nightingale hospital

    So the fact that the health service has, up until this point, had the capacity to deal with the pandemic and is now able to deal with it within our regular hospitals rather than having to expand into this nightingale network does appear to be a turning point.

    It is all a result of the public keeping to the regulations, cutting down the rate of transmission and confounding some of the worst possible scenarios which were painted for us at the start of this outbreak.

    Although of course, Minister Swann did say that the Nightingale can be used again as part of a re-escalation plan, in a the event of a second surge of the virus.

  12. Republic of Ireland death toll rises by 10

    A further 10 people have died with coronavirus in the Republic in the last day.

    It brings the total number of deaths there to 1,497.

    The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it had been informed of 159 confirmed new cases.

    Test tubes

    It means 23,401 confirmed cases have been reported in the country since the outbreak began.

    Of those confirmed to have the virus, 57% have been female with 43% male.

    The median age for patients contracting Covid-19 has been 48.

  13. Shielding guidelines 'may change after 12-week period'

    Robin Swann delivered the daily Stormont briefing earlier and one final line we didn't get to mention was that guidelines for those shielding from the virus may need to change at the end of the current 12-week period.

    “In regards to the 80,000 who are currently shielding, the advice still stays that they remain shielding,” he says.

    “The chief scientific advisor spoke this morning about the possibility of extending that shielding period and that’s something that we as an executive will look at when that advice and guidance comes forward and when that initial period of 12 weeks comes to an end."

    Doctor writing a letter
    Image caption: An extension period for those shielding from the virus may be considered

    He adds: “One thing that we must do is that when we ask someone to shield, it’s not about removing themselves from the community, it’s not about taking themselves away from their family or loved ones, it’s about shielding them from the virus itself."

    “It’s also about looking at where we are on our stepped programme to see if those who are shielding can be given additional support or access to loved ones or family members even if it should be on a closed number of individuals.

    “But we’re not there yet and that’s the important point to take."

  14. Arts fund closes temporarily due to high demand

    Robbie Meredith

    BBC News NI Arts and Education Correspondent

    A fund for artists and performers financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic has had to close temporarily due to a high level of demand.

    The £500,000 Artists Emergency Fund was opened by the Arts Council and Department for Communities on 27 April.

    It provides grants of up to £5,000 for people to develop work while venues, theatres and galleries are shut.

    The scheme has received more than 300 applications for about £1.2m of total funding in just two weeks.

    Read more here.

    Artist painting
  15. What is the Nightingale Hospital and why was it stood down?

    We've heard today that the Nightingale Hospital in Northern Ireland is to be temporarily stood down.

    Nightingale hospitals are non-permanent facilities that were set up across the UK to deal with the expected surge in coronavirus patients.

    Ten Nightingale hospitals across the UK were planned to care for Covid-19 patients.

    Belfast City Hospital's tower block was turned into a 230-bed unit for critically-ill patients last month.

    The were to help the most critically ill people - with predictions that the number would be high.

    Plans for the NI Nightingale were announced on 2 April as part of the surge planning and it opened on 7 April.

    hospital

    The demand for critical care has been managed at a trust level and has never had to be escalated to the Nightingale.

    Today's dashboard shows Craigavon has been the most active hospital. They have 127 patients but have discharged 979 throughout the pandemic.

    The City hospital has 19 today but has discharged 92 covid patients.

    Meanwhile, at the start if May it was announced that The Nightingale Hospital in London is expected to be placed on standby.

    It opened on 3 April with space for 4,000 beds to treat Covid-19 patients, and it could resume operations again if needed.

    Robin Swann has said NI's Nightingale Hospital could still be used, if modelling suggested a second wave of the virus.

  16. Care home testing and social care reforms 'a positive step'

    It was a fairly lively Stormont briefing today, with one of the major developments being a commitment for further Covid-19 testing at nursing homes.

    Speaking on Evening Extra, Pauline Sheppard, the Independent Health and Care Providers chief executive, says the extra support from the ambulance service and additional nurses "is a good and positive step in the right direction".

    She says some further detail - including how often and how regularly test are to be carried out - is now needed.

    care home

    She also welcomed Health Minister Robin Swann’s plans for wider reform of the social care sector

    “It’s a very challenging job and staff need to be recognised and that’s about investing in the social care sector.

    “That’s very much aligned to what independent sector is wanting."

  17. UK grant system will not accept NI driving licences as ID

    A government grant scheme to help self-employed people whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic opened for applications today - but making a claim may not be straightforward for some Northern Ireland residents.

    Neither a Northern Ireland driving licence nor an Irish passport are currently accepted as identification in online applications to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

    Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton said she had received complaints from constituents and raised the matter with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which is running the scheme.

    However, HMRC has told BBC News NI that Northern Ireland residents "will not be excluded".

    The Self Employed Income Support Scheme opened on Wednesday

    Its spokeswoman said applicants could answer a series of multiple choice questions to confirm their identity, and if that did not work, they can apply via a telephone helpline - 0800 024 1222.

    She also pointed out that anyone who has filed an online tax return before can use their existing user ID to apply for the scheme.

    The Self Employed Income Support Scheme is designed to match the support being given to furloughed employees.

    More than 110,000 self-employed people whose businesses are affected by coronavirus have already applied for government grants on the first day of the scheme's operation.

    Find out more about the scheme here.

  18. Reform and investment 'needed in social care sector'

    Having announced temporary measures to deal with the virus, Health Minister Robin Swann follows that by saying long-term reform is also needed.

    “This is essential given the threat that will be posed by Covid-19 in the months and potentially years ahead," he says.

    “I’m therefore proposing to move ahead with reform and investment plans subject to the necessary financial support being provided by the executive.

    Elderly lady in a care home

    “I want to see training, terms and conditions for care home staff being standardised and improved.

    “We will have to ensure that the return of this investment will be to the benefit of staff and residents and not for the profit margins of the operators.

    "That means access to a decent wage, access to some form of sick pay, a career pathway and training."

  19. 'No point giving 'false hope with dates' - CMO

    Dr McBride says people in Northern Ireland have, for now, "changed the course of the virus".

    However, he says “complacency remains our greatest enemy and we must be on guard for future waves”.

    “We must move forward cautiously and take a phased approach to the regulations which are in place,” he says.

    “There is no point in offering false hope with dates in the calendar which would be provisional and subject to alteration," he adds.

    corona

    “This virus does not read our plans or our timetable".

    He says while we are at low surge we must be ready to “scale back up the surge capacity in critical care” if that is required.

    He says it is now very important that we engage other health services so we can step up urgent services that had been paused in response to the Covid-19 planning, such as surgery.

  20. NI Ambulance Service providing mobile testing for care homes

    Health Minister Robin Swann says 25% of Northern Ireland's care homes population has been tested for coronavirus.

    Robin Swann also announced further measures to aid in the testing prcoess.

    “The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is now providing a mobile testing service for care homes, working in conjunction with the Trusts, the PHA and board teams."

    Ambulance vehicle

    He adds: “In addition up to 40 nurses from the HSC have been deployed to support testing in care homes and additional testing has also been extended into supported living environments.

    “Further significant expansions will occur, guided by the experts of Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies)."