First Minister Arlene Foster has said the original worst case scenario of 15,000 deaths in Northern Ireland due to coronavirus “struck terror” into her and while she praised the public for helping to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, added now was not the time to relax.
Nine further people have died as a result of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 216.
Detailing how Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots had allowed forest parks to be reopened to people who live nearby, she warned that any abuse of the relaxation would not be tolerated.
“We are not out of the woods, nor would we seek to make a dash for the exit,” she said.
“To do so would be foolish and would risk a second wave which would undo all of the good work that we have collectively been involved in over the past few weeks.
“We have worked very hard to map out a road to recovery to support every part of society,” she added. “It will be graduated, one step at a time, implemented at the right time.
Mrs Foster also said she is concerned about people not attending emergency departments because of Covid-19.
“If you feel unwell you should definitely attend a hospital or a GP. We recognise that there are non-covid healthcare issues that we will need to discuss with the health minister. It is an ongoing problem that I am concerned about,” she said.
We are not out of the woods, nor would we seek to make a dash for the exitArlene Foster
Mrs Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also addressed the division between Northern Ireland’s political parties on whether to reopen cemeteries amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I do fully recognise and we all sympathise with the many distressed constituents who have made contact right across the political spectrum who have not been able to maintain graves or visit graves as a result of the regulations,” said Mrs Foster.
“Much has been said on the negative impact from lockdown on people’s mental health and anguish. I think that this is a very good example of that.
“We are not just dealing with the direct harm caused by Covid-19- we come here every day and talk about the number of lives lost tot his but we also have to acknowledge the wider harm that is going on is society as a result of Covid-19.”
She said further discussions will take place at Executive but her view was that cemeteries should be re-opened with social distancing rules.
Mrs O’Neill said she said recognise the sensitivities of the issue but warned against the re-opening of cemeteries.
“We still are in a pandemic,” she said.
“Yesterday 90 people across this island lost their lives. In the north nine people lost their lives. We are not out the other side of this yet. So we have to focus very much on the public health message, which is to stay at home.”
“Restrictions will only be lifted when it is safe to do so. This is for the public interest. Ultimately this is still about saving lives,” she added.