| 15.2°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Foster and O'Neill thank Northern Ireland public for sacrifices during lockdown

The First and Deputy First Minister have thanked the people of Northern Ireland for the sacrifices they had made in living with the Covid-19- lockdown restrictions, and called on everyone not to let up in their efforts so that restrictions could continue to be eased.

Speaking at the daily Covid-19 Executive press briefing on Friday, First Minster Arlene Foster said: "Your selflessness has enabled us to suppress the coronavirus at a time when it threatened to engulf our health service.

Mrs Foster said the Northern Ireland Covid-19 death rate stood at approximately 26 per 100,000 people; the figure for England and Wales is at 46 per 100,000, and in Scotland, 51.

“By flattening that rate of infection, you have enabled our doctors and nurses to go on treating those whose lives have been hanging in the balance," she said.

But this is no time to be blasé, the DUP leader continued, as she and Deputy First Minister MIchelle O’Neill hammered home the message that no one can afford to be complacent in the battle against the coronavirus if lockdown is to end.

“Stick with it, so we can lift more restrictions,” Mrs O'Neill said.

“Our success will depend on everyone being responsible, on thinking about each other, respecting the social distancing and following hygiene. That is critical in keeping the virus spread low.”

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne attended Friday’s briefing. He said that people would see a change in policing as Northern Ireland begins slowly to emerge from lockdown, with fewer road checkpoints.

“You will see a change to the policing style, as we move from fighting the virus to fighting crime as we restore neighbourhood policing," he said.

But he added that the PSNI would still act against large gatherings of people in contravention of the lockdown restrictions.

The Chief Constable said that the lockdown period had seen a fall in crime, with the exception of domestic violence. However, he foresaw a rise in what he called "acquisitive crime" - burglaries and thefts, if the economy fails to pick up soon.

Asked about proposals for quarantining travellers entering the UK, First Minister Foster said that the quarantine issue was a reserved mater for the UK Government alone to decide upon - but she welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister had agreed that there would be no quarantine for the Common Travel Area between the Ireland and the UK.

“I think that is a generous move by the UK Government, and it’s something I hope that the Republic of Ireland government will also implement so we can make sure people can travel across the British Isles," she said.

On the issue of Troubles pensions, both Mrs Foster and Mrs O’Neill said they were committed to finding a solution to the problems. Mrs Foster said that the legislation governing troubles pension was passed by Westminster.

“The regulations were set in Westminster before the Stormont Executive returned in January. We are committed to delivering this pension… but we do have to deal with the funding - it’s quite a lot of money, and we need to be able to make sure that we deliver," she said.

Ms O’Neill said the onus was on the British Government for the funding package required by the pension scheme.

“This is about restoring dignity, this is about supporting those people who have been physically and psychologically injured as a result of the conflict so there are key issues that need to be resolved as quickly as possible to allow this payment to happen,” she said.

Belfast Telegraph