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Coronavirus updates: Northern Ireland schools to close from Monday

  • Schools in Northern Ireland to close from Monday, while schools in England, Scotland and Wales set to shut as well
  • NI Executive announces two grants for small businesses affected by the crisis, worth £370m
  • Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to front daily press conferences
  • Six new cases of coronavirus diagnosed in NI, bringing total number of confirmed cases to 68
  • Boris Johnson says UK much closer to generally available test for coronavirus

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill speak to the press at Stormont Castle regarding the ongoing issues with the Coronavirus Pandemic. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill speak to the press at Stormont Castle regarding the ongoing issues with the Coronavirus Pandemic. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Northern Ireland's schools are to close hours after Education Minister Peter Weir said the measure would have little effect. Pictured Photo credit should read: Northern Ireland Assembly/PA Wire

Northern Ireland's schools are to close hours after Education Minister Peter Weir said the measure would have little effect. Pictured Photo credit should read: Northern Ireland Assembly/PA Wire

PA

Education Minister Peter Weir speaking at the Stormont education committee where he said that he cannot give a date yet for when schools in Northern Ireland will close over coronavirus.

Education Minister Peter Weir speaking at the Stormont education committee where he said that he cannot give a date yet for when schools in Northern Ireland will close over coronavirus.

PA

The Executive is monitoring coronavirus developments.

The Executive is monitoring coronavirus developments.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill speak to the press at Stormont Castle regarding the ongoing issues with the Coronavirus Pandemic. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed Northern Ireland schools will close from Monday, March 23 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The DUP leader said that the closure would "likely" continue beyond the break for summer holidays.

"The societal and economic impact of this measure will be enormous as parents have to adjust their routine to deal with this unplanned long term closure," Mrs Foster said.

"We are exploring how our schools can continue to be a space for the education of children whose parents are health service staff or indeed other key workers such as the blue light services."

"I look forward to the day when we see our schools fully functioning again."

At a glance: NI school closures

  • All schools in Northern Ireland will be closed from Monday, March 23rd

  • Remote learning options and home packs for self-study to be explored for pupils

  • Exam body to provide clear guidance for schools and parents for GCSE and A-Levels

  • Options to be explored for children whose parents are health service staff or work for blue light services

"Politics has to be set aside", Mrs Foster said. "Today we stand united as leaders to help guide Northern Ireland, our people, through this time of unprecedented challenge."

This is the time to be the good Samaritan and we all have our part to play Arlene Foster

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said we are currently living in "unprecedented times" and the number one priority is to "save lives".

"This virus has changed everything and it cannot be business as usual. This is already impacting our economy, businesses, jobs and people's livelihood," the Sinn Fein vice-President said.

"We know that you need our full support and you need resources and we need to come together like we have never, ever done before."

Also announced at the press briefing was the launch of a "community response plan" and two new grant schemes for vulnerable businesses.

At a glance: Stormont financial measures

  • Launch of a "community response plan" and further announcements in the coming days
  • New small business grant scheme of £10,000 provided to all small businesses eligible for the small business rate relief scheme with a Net Asset Value of up to £15,000. Scheme will cost £267m and is set to assist 27,000 NI businesses to ease immediate cash flow pressures
  • New immediate grant of £25,000 for companies in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000. Scheme to cost £100m and is set to assist 4,000 businesses
  • Previously announced emergency £100m rates package

We are pledging to you all that the sole focus of government has now turned to doing everything that is necessary Michelle O'Neill

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools in England would also close from Friday, alongside schools in Scotland and Wales.

It comes as the Public Health Agency announced six new cases of the virus in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of cases - of those that have been tested - to 68.

Almost 1,500 have been tested with health officials saying those that do not need hospital treatment should self-isolate and will not require testing.

Here's how Wednesday unfolded:

Belfast Telegraph