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Coronavirus updates: Foster says Executive has 'unity of purpose' in fighting pandemic as one more person dies in Northern Ireland

  • Total of 22 people in Northern Ireland have died after contracting Covid-19 with 533 positive cases
  • Justice Minister announces temporary early release of some prisoners
  • List of NI schools open for key workers' children and vulnerable pupils published

First Minister Arlene Foster has said the Executive has 'unity of purpose' in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, as Northern Ireland prepares for a surge in cases.

Speaking in a press conference at Stormont, Mrs Foster said tackling the virus has been a challenge for the Executive, which is set to increase as in the coming week.

"Every minister in the Executive feels the pain, worry and concern you are going through," she said.

She told the public Stormont does not want to enforce new powers, which will allow police to fine those who leave their homes without good reason during the lockdown but said some businesses may be forced to close if they do not adhere to guidance on social distancing.

A new forum met for the first time on Monday to establish further clarity for businesses in what Mrs Foster described as "a good meeting".

She said ministers will meet on a North-South basis on Tuesday to establish how best to fight the virus.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "It's no secret there is a diversity of views in the Assembly", adding there is a "difference of emphasis" around what steps to take in regard to the coronavirus.

Mrs O'Neill said ministers had worked across the weekend and along with a new public relations campaign to spread information, "saving lives in the number one priority of this Executive".

"We all have a unity of purpose and the unity of purpose is to flatten the curve of this infection," said Mrs Foster, adding the leaders had met with the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer on Monday.

It comes as the death of another person due to coronavirus was announced in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of fatalities to 22.

The Public Health Agency said that further testing has resulted in 123 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland to 533. That is the biggest single rise in a day so far. However, the increase may be a result of a ramping up in testing.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said "tens of thousands" of stranded British travellers will be flown home under a new partnership between the Government and airlines.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he said: "I can today announce a new arrangement between the Government and airlines to fly home tens of thousands of stranded British travellers, where commercial flights are no longer possible.

"Partner airlines include British Airways, Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan and this list can be expanded.

"Under the arrangements that we are putting in place we will target flights from a range of priority countries, starting this week."

Earlier Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long announced the decision to temporarily release some prisoners early as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement came as police Chief Constable Simon Byrne confirmed two PSNI officers tested positive for coronavirus.

Check out our blog to see how Monday's coronavirus developments unfolded.

Belfast Telegraph