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Eight further Covid deaths as calls made for ‘greater support’ for staff and pupils as schools return

There have been eight further Covid-related deaths reported by the Department of Health today (Sunday).

All occurred in the last 24 hours according to the official dashboard, which has the overall total now at 716.

There were a further 685 cases reported in that timeframe, with 76 in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and a further 57 in Newry, Mourne and Down.

A total of 2,972 individuals were tested.

There are 361 people now in hospital – that’s 15 more than Saturday – as a result of the virus, 48 of whom are in intensive care units. There are currently 12 ICU beds available in NI.

Seventy-three patients are in Craigavon Area Hospital today – seven more than yesterday. To date, 447 patients have been discharged from the Co Armagh hospital.

The figures come as one local MLA called for “great support to help protect pupils” as they prepare to return to the classroom tomorrow (Monday) after an extended half-term break.

Newry and Armagh SDLP Assemblyman Justin McNulty, who is a member of Stormont’s Education Committee, said: “I fully appreciate and acknowledge how important, both educationally and emotionally, it is for children to return to the classroom for learning and indeed for their socialisation and routine.

“However, we must make sure all steps are taken to ensure that the whole school experience is a safe one for all involved and one which is supported by the Department of Education.

“School leaders and teachers also understand the need to have children back in school, but they also have concerns about their own health, safety and wellbeing as well as that of their non-teaching colleagues and the pupils in the classroom.

“Whilst evidence has been presented showing that infection rates are low in school, we still have had over 1,500 incidents in schools since September. So teachers are justifiably concerned and every measure should be implemented to reassure them.

“There have also been concerns raised about lack of social distancing around the environs of the school gate and in relation to buses shared by more than one school.

“I welcome mandatory regulations around the wearing of masks on school transport, but parents, carers and grandparents also have a responsibility at the school gate. We all have our part to play and we all must redouble our efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

“Children need stability and routine, none more so than those with special, complex or additional educational needs. If we are to ensure there is no further disruption to the education of our young people then we must all endeavour to make schools, the school environment and our communities a safe place for all.”

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