LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Irish crime gang forging negative Covid-19 results for people seeking to travel says Europol - Michelle O’Neill self-isolating for the second time - Unionist leaders blast number of mourners at Loyalist funeral

An Irish organised crime gang is forging travel documents including fake negative Covid-19 results for people seeking to travel within Europe, according to Europol.

Monday, 1st February 2021, 4:04 pm

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Europol issued the warning on Monday.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Irish crime gang offering to forge negative Covid tests for travellers

Last updated: Monday, 01 February, 2021, 15:28

  • Irish crime gang offering to forge negative Covid tests for travellers
  • 11 new Covid related deaths and 314 infections detected in 24 hours
  • Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill self-isolating for second time
  • Unionist leaders blast number of mourners at Loyalist funeral

NI had shipment of vaccine in transit when European Commission triggered Article 16 says Health Minister Robin Swann

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has said the EU’s triggering of Article 16 on Friday had “potentially very real implications” for Northern Ireland.

“This had potentially very real implications for ourselves because we had vaccine actually in transit, and had that article been enforced we may have seen difficulties in the supply and the arrival of vaccines here in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“While there was a noise being made on Friday evening, I would like to pay tribute to those officials within my department who were working vigorously behind the scenes to make sure that those vaccines actually arrived here on Friday night, and was able to be distributed through our practices and vaccination centres.

“Vaccine is not something that should become political.

“We have been very clear over the last year that in regards to how we fight Covid-19, it’s not about politics, it’s about saving lives.”

Irish crime gang forging negative Covid-19 results for people seeking to travel says Europol

An Irish organised crime gang is forging travel documents including fake negative Covid-19 results for people seeking to travel within Europe, according to Europol.

"Europol received additional intelligence on the alleged use of a mobile application by the Rathkeale Rovers Mobile Organised Crime Group (Irish crime gang that operates internationally) which allows members of the organised crime group to manually falsify test results.

“Given the widespread technological means available, in the form of high-quality printers and different software, fraudsters are able to produce high-quality counterfeit, forged or fake documents," said Europol.

Two people aged between 40 and 59 die of Covid-19 in 24 hours

The Department of Health (DoH) recorded 11 new Covid related deaths and 314 new infections in the last 24 hours.

Two of the people to sadly pass away were aged between 40-59; five were aged between 60-79 and four were aged 80 or older.

Seven of the 11 deaths were male and four were female.

The deaths occurred in the following local government districts: Belfast (one); Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (two); Antrim and Newtownabbey (one); Mid and East Antrim (five) and Mid Ulster (two).

The total number of Covid related deaths in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic now stands at 1,861.

The DoH also recorded 314 new infections in the last 24 hours.

This means 3,688 and 104,274 have tested positive for Covid-19 in the last seven days and since the beginning of the pandemic respectively.

Care home staff refusing vaccine due to ‘cultural issues’, association claims

Some care home staff are refusing the Covid-19 vaccine because of “cultural issues”, the National Care Association’s executive chairman has said - writes Luke Powell, PA.

Nadra Ahmed said a lack of access to the jab and not enough doses being provided by visiting doctors was also to blame for some workers not receiving it.

Her comments came as official figures are expected to confirm that all older residents in England’s care homes have been offered a vaccine.

Ms Ahmed said care home staff needed to be “convinced” that the vaccine was for their safety and for the people they look after.

Speaking about why some staff had not received the jab, she told BBC Breakfast: “Some of it is to do with access and that is that people are just not able to get to where they needed to go to.

“If they’ve been coming into the care homes, the GPs have not had enough vaccine for the staff as well, they’ve just got enough for the residents, which is the priority.

“And some of it is to do with cultural issues and some is that people just don’t want to have the vaccine.”

The majority of care home staff who have been offered the jab are being vaccinated, but data obtained by the PA news agency in mid-January from a number of providers shows between 5% and 21% of staff offered the jab have declined it.

National Care Forum (NCF) executive director Vic Rayner said 27% of NCF member organisations reported that 70% or more of their staff had been vaccinated as of early last week.

She told Sky News that “access” to vaccinations was the main issue.

“Now clearly if you bring a vaccination team into a home there is a great opportunity to vaccinate all the staff who are there, but staff work on shifts,” Ms Rayner said.

“Sometimes they might not have been available because of holidays or other issues. So I think it’s about getting those staff who weren’t on-site vaccinated.”

Social care minister Helen Whately played down reports that some care workers were unwilling to take the vaccine.

“We know that there were some staff that were worried about the idea of having the vaccination,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“But what I am hearing is that when the vaccination teams go into the care homes staff are coming forward.

“Some might be nervous but when they see their colleagues getting the vaccination, when they see that it’s all right… we really are seeing good take-up from care home workers.”

NHS England said figures are expected to show on Monday that people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents had been offered their first vaccine doses, meeting the deadline set by the Government.

Unionist leaders blast number of mourners at Loyalist funeral

Unionist leaders have slammed the “significant” number of mourners at a Loyalist funeral despite coronavirus restrictions - writes Rebecca Black.

First Minister Arlene Foster stated everyone must be equal under the law, which currently says no more than 25 can attend a funeral.

Police said a “significant number of people gathered as part of the cortege” at the funeral of Hugh Hill in Belfast on Friday and have launched an investigation.

“It’s a huge disappointment that people are not abiding by the rules, the rules are there for a reason, the rest of us abide by the rules and yet there are groups of people who believe that they are above the rules and that is wrong, everybody is equal under the law,” Mrs Foster told the BBC.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said all funerals should be following the rules, and urged police to act.

“Police need to be much more visible in what they are doing because it is unacceptable no matter what side it comes from, it shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

Friday’s funeral came after similar scenes at the send off for republican Eamonn “Peggy” McCourt in Londonderry on Monday.

The PSNI have confirmed they are investigating potential breaches of the regulations at both funerals.

Last year there was outrage when deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was among scores of mourners who turned out despite lockdown rules for the funeral of Bobby Storey.

Mrs Foster and Mr Aiken both queried why police are not intervening.

“We cannot be facilitating people to break rules,” the DUP leader said.

“We need to see action and therefore we look forward to seeing that action in the very near future.”

Mr Aiken said there has been no deterrent.

“We are not against people legitimately grieving for their families, but the rules are for 25, they are not for large scale displays,” he told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show.

“It’s not just a question of being seen to enforce at paramilitary funerals, it is a public health issue, and that’s what I find really concerning, that the Chief Constable doesn’t seem to be able to get that.

“The PSNI should be enforcing the law, that is their job, and the fact that there seems to be two-tier policing is making many people from all parts of our community very unhappy with what is being done because there seems to be one law for them, and one law for everybody else. That is not acceptable.”

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the message should be that whatever your background, the rules are there to keep everyone safe.

“There is a real frustration because of the sacrifices people have made,” he said.

Mr O’Toole said it was “deeply wounding” for those who abided by the rules for funerals for their loved ones to see “others appear to break the rules, and those rules not be enforced”.

In a statement at the weekend, Chief Inspector Darren Fox said officers had engaged with representatives of the family beforehand as well as local community representatives.

“Regrettably at the funeral on Friday morning, a significant number of people gathered as part of the cortege, in a manner likely to be in breach of the health protection regulations,” he said.

“As a result, police have commenced an investigation into the matter, evidence has been gathered, and where individuals are identified as potentially being in breach of the regulations, they will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.”

Michelle O’Neill self-isolating after someone in her home tests positive for Covid

Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, is self-isolating after someone in her home tested positive for Covid-19.

“I will now have to self isolate due to a positive test result in my home,” tweeted deputy First Minister O’Neill on Monday morning.

“I will work from home to continue to protect families, workers and to take us through this pandemic.”

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