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Coronavirus: Decision not to close Northern Ireland schools based on 'clear scientific evidence'


Ministers met with health chiefs at Stormont

Ministers met with health chiefs at Stormont

Ministers met with health chiefs at Stormont

The First and Deputy First Ministers jointly insisted yesterday that the Executive chose not to close Northern Ireland's schools based on scientific evidence.

Speaking at a cross-party conference at the Department of Health's Castle Buildings following Boris Johnson's announcement that the UK will not be closing its schools, Michelle O'Neill did admit that school closures does remain "under review".

Education Minister Peter Weir added that his department, as well as the Executive as a whole, was guided by expert medical advice.

That advice recommended that closing Northern Ireland's schools could be "counter-productive from a public health point of view", said Mr Weir.

DUP leader Arlene Foster added that the Executive is attempting to "flatten the peak of the virus' impact".

"This is a very fluid situation and it is very important that we come together right across government," she said. "It's a whole of government issue, including local government.

"As an Executive we took the decision right at the start of this process and we continue with the position that we will always take our advice on medical evidence, based on scientific evidence, to act quickly and proportionately to protect public health.

"Those measures include the proposal that anyone with mild symptoms of Covid-19 should self-isolate for seven days and should do that as quickly as they identify those symptoms.

"Next week we will be revisiting some of the other issues but it's important that we do everything in a timely fashion."

Sinn Fein vice-president Ms O'Neill stated that it was a "very confusing time for people" but the scientific evidence was clear in regards to school closures.

"There will be heightened anxiety, people will be worried in terms of messaging, particularly with the decision to close schools on one part of this island," she continued.

"We have a situation here in the north where we are not at that stage yet. We collectively, as an Executive, are working together and taking every step necessary to make sure that we are fully prepared and we can do everything we can in terms of our response to this public health emergency.

"We are very much guided by the science that suggests that this is not the right decision at this time. We have taken the decision to keep that under review so we will work very closely to make sure that we keep that under review."

Meanwhile, an expert has said closing schools could increase the risks for elderly grandparents and reduce the number of NHS workers available for the frontline fight against coronavirus.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said it was still too early to say whether steps taken in Ireland were a "sensible precaution or an overreaction for the current stage of the epidemic".

Belfast Telegraph