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Coronavirus: Some pupils to return to school in late August, education minister announces

  • Northern Ireland death toll surpasses 500
  • Executive rules out lifting any restrictions on Thursday
  • Death toll in the Republic reaches 1,583 after 12 further deaths

Education Minister Peter Weir has said it his intention for schools in Northern Ireland to reopen in late August for some pupils.

He clarified those children returning would be those on the verge of taking major examinations such as GCSEs or A-Levels or in the processing of transitioning between schools, for example P7 and first years at secondary schools.

However, he stressed schools will not return in the same manner as before the coronavirus outbreak but with a phased return of pupils.

He said that depending on medical and scientific evidence groups of younger pupils may be fully able to return to school.

The minister also said he was looking at providing 24,000 devices to children to help with remote learning.

He also confirmed his department would continue to pay for free school meals to the end of June, but the Executive would have to decide on provision through the summer.

He told the Assembly: "We will explore what role the voluntary, community and private sectors can play in making some provision for our young people during the summer.

"Subject to medical guidance and safety it would be my aim to see a phased reopening of schools, beginning with a limited provision for key cohort years in late August, followed by phased provision for all pupils at the beginning of September.

He added: "For all pupils it will involve a schedule with a mixture of school attendance and remote learning at home."

In terms of preventing inequality the education minister said handing out thousands of digital devices will help children learn at home during the crisis.

Speaking during the daily Covid-19 Executive press conference, Mr Weir said handing out devices could close gaps in disadvantages felt by pupils but there needed to be a wider package or measures.

"So in of itself this will not solve it, it will be part of a wider package of measures. In an imperfect situation all we can try and do is ensure we have as much mitigation as possible to give as much opportunity for every child as possible.”

Earlier Northern Ireland's Covid-19 death toll reached 501 after seven further deaths were announced.

There was also 1,546 tests carried out involving 1,084 people in the past 24 hours with 42 returning positive.

There have now been 4,481 confirmed cases of the virus in Northern Ireland.

The figures also show there remains outbreaks of the virus in 71 Northern Ireland care homes with outbreaks at 36 facilities appearing to have ended.

Health Minister Robin Swann, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, defended his department's response to the pandemic and how care home residents were treated. He said every loss of life was a regret.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said measures to protect care homes could have been handled differently.

Check out our live blog below to see how Thursday's developments unfolded.

Belfast Telegraph