There have been 20 further coronavirus-related deaths recorded in Northern Ireland during the past 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 1,434.

Another 1,500 new cases have also been reported with the cumulative number of infections having reached 86,146.

There has also been a big increase in hospitalisations with record 641 people confirmed Covid-19 patients. Of those 45 are in intensive care, with 36 on ventilators.

The estimated percentage of positive cases compatible with the new virus variant that originated in England is 33% for Northern Ireland, according to the UK Office for National Statistics.

Also today, Northern Ireland announced it will require incoming travellers to undertake pre-departure testing for Covid-19.

Britain's transport minister, Grant Shapps, has already set out new rules which, from next week, will require passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane - including UK nationals - to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving their country of departure.

Failure to comply will lead to an immediate £500 fine.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said: "I have agreed in principle to the proposed pre-departure testing regime for Northern Ireland.

"Officials are currently working with colleagues across the UK to resolve policy and operational issues around an effective implementation.

"This will strengthen our response to the changes seen in the transmission of the virus both domestically and across the globe.

"Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence - helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks."

However, Northern Ireland will remain an 'open back door' for travellers arriving to the island of Ireland from Great Britain.  

Individuals travelling from Britain to the Republic can avoid the new PCR testing regime by taking a plane or ferry to Northern Ireland and then travelling south.

If they are travelling directly to the Republic, they will be required to provide evidence of a negative test.

Stay at home measures introduced

Restrictions preventing people from leaving home unless it is essential have been introduced in Northern Ireland.

People can be ordered to return to their homes by police as part of measures agreed by Stormont ministers.

The health service is under severe pressure, with hospitals at full capacity and cancer surgery among operations cancelled in Belfast.

Official statisticians have said 115 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in the week of 19-25 December, with a further 91 deaths occurring from 26 December to 1 January.

The total Covid-19 related deaths figure has now reached 1,895, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency said.

The weekday traffic volume has already fallen by around 58%.


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Tighter rules around movement will remain in place until 6 February but will be reviewed later this month.

Essential reasons for travel include food shopping, exercise and for work if remote is not an option.

Those found to have breached the rules can be issued with a £200 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £5,000 if the case goes to court.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings have been reduced from 15 people to six from only two households.

Mainstream schools remain closed, A-level and GCSE exams are cancelled, and gatherings for religious worship have been halted.

First Minister Arlene Foster has urged the public to abide by the "stay at home" message.

"When we look at the numbers in our hospitals today of Covid inpatients ... we really do need to proceed with these restrictions in a way I hope everybody recognises.

"When we look, for example, to the Republic of Ireland and the rapid growth of Covid numbers there as well, it's very important that everybody abides by the stay at home message and only goes out when they absolutely need to.

"I think that is really really important."

Justice Minister Naomi Long said: "It's often second nature to nip out in the car but we must all stop and ask ourselves if that journey is essential.

"Where possible, we must all stay at home.

"Staying home means you will not fall foul of the law.

"Staying home means you will protect your loved ones; and staying home means you will save lives."