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Coronavirus: Medic calls for north coast roads in Northern Ireland to close at Easter to head off possible disaster

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A top medic has urged roads be closed amid fears crowds will gather on the North Coast. (stock photo) Pic PressEye

A top medic has urged roads be closed amid fears crowds will gather on the North Coast. (stock photo) Pic PressEye

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

A top medic has urged roads be closed amid fears crowds will gather on the North Coast. (stock photo) Pic PressEye

A top doctor whose family ran a hotel on the north coast for generations has called for the roads around our coastline to be closed for Easter.

Dr Kathryn Armstrong, whose family owned the Causeway Hotel in Bushmills, said she fears the traditional numbers of people heading for the seaside over the holidays is a recipe for disaster unless strong action is taken.

Her call comes as the number of Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland rose to 70, with seven further deaths announced yesterday.

The Public Health Agency said a further 69 positive cases of coronavirus had been confirmed, bringing the number of official cases to 1,158.

With a surge in cases expected within the next week, Dr Armstrong said she hopes everyone gets the message that trips to the seaside, even if the weather is sunny, should remain out of bounds.

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Plea: Dr Kathryn Armstrong

Plea: Dr Kathryn Armstrong

Plea: Dr Kathryn Armstrong

Now working and living in Canada, where she is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Dr Armstrong says she fears for her family, who still live in the area.

"I have written to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, I have asked police and local MLAs for their help in this," she said.

"We all know what happens in Portrush and Portstewart over Easter.

"It's a traditional time for families to head to the coast, visit the beaches or the Giant's Causeway, but this year I'm appealing for people to please, please stay away.

"And my appeal to those in charge of managing the crisis is please close the roads to traffic along the north coast over Easter weekend."

Dr Armstrong's grandmother Ruby Armstrong is a well-known figure in the Causeway tourist industry. Dr Armstrong said it's people like Ruby, now coming 95 and living in a nursing home, and her family who will suffer if people fail to heed the warnings.

"What we don't need is people thinking it's okay to head up to their second homes for a long weekend like they usually do. It's not a good idea to take a drive to the beach. So far the north coast hasn't been too badly hit by the epidemic, but if people suddenly relax a little and think they'll chance it, all that can change so quickly.

"I'm in constant touch with family at home. My sister is a key worker with Armstrong Medical.

"She's looking after my our parents and our grandmother. It isn't easy, but I want the public of Northern Ireland to show people like her the respect they deserve and stay at home, just for this year.

"My family has a long-standing role in supporting the tourist industry in Bushmills. Both my father and grandmother served the people of Northern Ireland at the Causeway Hotel at the Giant's Causeway for over 30 years.

"Easter weekend traditionally sees the start of the tourist season but the message needs to go out that the businesses are not opening. We don't need people descending on tourist spots this year.

"If that happens it could damage the people of the north Antrim coast forever. Whilst the Causeway Hospital is an excellent facility, it does not have the capacity to manage a full-blown Covid-19 outbreak.

"Having visitors to the north Antrim coast over Easter weekend puts all local people at unnecessary risk. We have seen so many good times at Easter in Portrush, so many people have happy memories of these - but for this year, please stay at home," said Dr Armstrong, who has been living in Canada for eight years.

"Keep our families on the north Antrim coast safe, so that when this passes they will still be with us.

"Those of us who continue to live abroad can then continue to promote the Causeway Coast and its people throughout the world."

North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey, a member of the Policing Board, said the PSNI hasn't ruled anything out when it comes to making sure the strict guidelines are adhered to by the public.

"I have been in touch with the PSNI and I will be speaking to them again tomorrow," he said.

"The message has to go out there that the north coast is not somewhere anyone who doesn't live there should be over the Easter period.

"I can certainly understand why families might want to get out of the house, but the rules will still apply over Easter.

"The PSNI are very aware of the dangers posed by people thinking the rules might relax for a holiday period, but while they will try to be respectful in reminding anyone they find on the roads, they still have the penalty system in place if they need it."

Meanwhile, fellow Policing Board member and Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has spoken of her grief as a family member died after contracting Covid-19.

"I'm devastated I won't be able to attend my uncle's funeral," she said on social media.

"I cannot give my aunt a hug.

"My dad is upset he has lost a brother-in-law and cannot be with his big sister in her grief.

"This terrible virus has taken a lovely man from my family."

Belfast Telegraph