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Coronavirus: Arlene Foster says schools should prepare to close for 16 weeks as five new Northern Ireland cases confirmed

  • Five new cases in Northern Ireland, bringing total to 34
  • Patients with mild symptoms, such as a new persistent cough or a fever, asked to self-isolate at home for seven days without testing
  • Arlene Foster says NI schools will not be closed immediately, but when they do "they will close for at least 16 weeks"
  • Second person dies in Republic as 39 new cases confirmed
  • United States' European travel ban extended to the UK and Ireland from Monday

Five new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health (DoH) has said.

The news comes after First Minister Arlene Foster warned that, when schools in the region close due to the virus, they could remain shut for up to 16 weeks.

Following the nine new cases confirmed on the Friday, the latest update brings the total number of cases in Northern Ireland to 34.

The DoH has urged those with mild symptoms, such as a new persistent cough or a fever, to self-isolate at home for seven days.

Those displaying mild symptoms will not need to be tested, with testing being principally provided for patients requiring hospital treatment and those with certain medical conditions.

A DoH spokesperson said healthcare workers who have been in contact with any confirmed case or anyone displaying symptoms will also be tested.

"Protocols on case reporting are being updated in light of the new testing procedures. Further information will be provided early next week," they added.

The news comes following a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Co Armagh, where the approach of each jurisdiction in dealing with coronavirus was discussed.

Following the meeting, First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that schools in Northern Ireland would not follow suit with those in the Republic and close.

Mrs Foster said schools will only close "when the timing is right".

Schools will not be closed immediately but schools and parents should prepare because when they do they will close for at least 16 weeks Arlene Foster

"We will take that action when it is the right time to do it. There are two different jurisdictions on this island," she said.

She added that, when schools do close, it could be for several months.

She said: "Schools will not be closed immediately but schools and parents should prepare because when they do they will close for at least 16 weeks."

Her comments come after a split in the Executive appeared on Friday when Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill called for schools to be shut, less than 24 hours after jointly stating with Arlene Foster that schools should remain open, based on medical advice.

Speaking on Saturday, Michelle O'Neill stood by her view - one shared by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO).

INTO represents 40,633 primary school teachers in the Republic of Ireland and 7,086 teachers at primary and post-primary level in Northern Ireland.

In a joint statement issued on Saturday, INTO General Secretary John Boyle and Northern Secretary Gerry Murphy urged the Executive and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBridge to close all schools.

"Our members are worried about the children and young people in their care and also for their own families. The confirmation by the PHA of a community transmission of the virus is a significant development which will add to the anxiety and concern expressed to date," they said.

"Concerned parents are already acting with their feet and taking their children out of school. Parents are concerned for their safety and that of other family members with underlying medical conditions. Conflicting medical advice in the different jurisdictions is adding to their frustration. A virus cannot be constrained by a border and we need joined-up, all-island thinking to respond to this crisis."

INTO advised authorities in Northern Ireland to outline an action plan for school closures to allow parents and schools to prepare.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Chief Pharmaceutical Officer has urged the public not to stockpile medication, as authorities continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said the virus is presenting "increasing challenges" to staff working in community pharmacies.

“The Department is working to ensure that everyone continues to have access to their local community pharmacy. It is vital at this busy time that we are mindful of the pressure that community pharmacy staff are under," she said.

“There is no need for you to do anything new or different when ordering or taking your medicines. People should order prescriptions and take their medicines as normal.

“Extra supplies should not be ordered from your doctor. Stockpiling or purchasing medication that you do not need is completely unnecessary and could disadvantage other patients.

“There are no prescription medicine shortages as a result of Covid-19."

See how today's developments unfolded in our live blog.

Belfast Telegraph