Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Four further deaths linked to Covid-19 have been reported in the North, as a major drive to boost vaccination rates gets under way.
The Big Jab Weekend sees mass vaccination centres opening again for first doses for adults, amid concerns over the high number of Covid cases in the region.
The initiative got off to a good start, with reports of queues forming at several vaccination centres on Saturday.
More than 100 people were at the SSE Arena in Belfast before the doors opened.
The Western Health Trust reported queues at three centres in its area, and said it had delivered more than 1,000 jabs by early afternoon.
The Belfast Trust said a “great start” had been recorded, with queues at Whitla Hall.
About 86 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland have received their first dose of a vaccine, but concerns have been repeatedly expressed about a lower uptake among younger people.
The North’s health minister Robin Swann said reaching another 5 per cent could cut in half the numbers of people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
This weekend all the North’s mass vaccination centres will offer walk-in first jabs for all adult age groups, and there will be walk-in pop-up clinics across Northern Ireland, and jabs by appointment at participating community pharmacies.
The department of health said it will be the last chance for anyone aged 18 and over to get their first jab at a mass vaccination centre, as they will soon be winding down.
They stopped offering first doses to the general population at the end of July, but are resuming for this weekend.
People aged 16 and 17 will be able to access the centres for a first vaccine dose until the end of August.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health said there had been 1,612 new confirmed cases of the virus and four deaths in the last 24-hour reporting period.
The total has fallen from Friday, when Northern Ireland recorded 2,397 cases, its highest number of Covid-19 cases in a day since the start of the pandemic.
Mr Swann said: “The latest figures on our Covid-19 dashboard are deeply concerning, both in terms of deaths and new cases
“The Delta variant is taking its toll on Northern Ireland and it is vital that as many of our citizens as possible are vaccinated.”
Northern Ireland has the lowest vaccination rate in the UK, with more than 150,000 adults yet to be vaccinated.