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Coronavirus updates: Pressure mounts to close Northern Ireland's schools as 11 new cases confirmed

  • Health Secretary confirms elderly will be asked to self-isolate
  • Authorities under pressure to shut Northern Ireland schools
  • Taoiseach clamps down on gatherings of more than 100 people at pubs and clubs
  • A total of 214 cases confirmed on Island of Ireland

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Several schools across Northern Ireland have closed voluntarily over the crisis

Several schools across Northern Ireland have closed voluntarily over the crisis

PA Archive/PA Images

The UK Government is to ramp up measures to tackle the virus (Jane Barlow/PA)

The UK Government is to ramp up measures to tackle the virus (Jane Barlow/PA)

Several schools across Northern Ireland have closed voluntarily over the crisis

Pressure is mounting on authorities to take action and close Northern Ireland's schools, following the confirmation of 11 new cases of coronavirus in the region.

The latest update brings the total number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland to 45 and is the biggest one-day increase here to date.

As the Executive remains split on whether to follow suit with the Republic and close schools, several schools have taken the situation into their own hands and announced they will shut their doors.

Belfast's ten special schools will close from Monday, while principals seek guidance from the Education Authority (EA) on the health and safety issues concerning children with special needs in relation to the virus.

The mother of one pupil in Co Armagh has also initiated legal proceedings over the government's stance.

Her child suffers from underlying health problems, including severe asthma, making her more vulnerable to the virus.

In a statement, Belfast law firm Phoenix Law, who are acting on behalf of the woman, said they have put Education Minister Peter Weir, Health Minister Robin Swann, the Education Authority and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools on notice of their intention to apply for an emergency judicial review into their current position.

First Minister Arlene Foster has said schools will not shut at this time, however when they inevitably do, they would be shut for "at least" 16 weeks.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has argued schools should close their doors immediately, a view shared by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.

Meanwhile, 40 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland.

The new cases include 23 males and 17 females.

There are now 169 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic and there have been two deaths.

The news comes after in emerged that elderly people in Northern Ireland will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months as part of UK-wide plans to tackle the coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is a "very big ask", but it is a measure which is for their own "self-protection".

He also confirmed that ministers were seeking to give police powers to arrest and forcibly quarantine people who are sick with the virus but are not self-isolating, powers which PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne recently called for.

"We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that's important," Mr Hancock told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.

"I doubt that actually we will need to use it much, because people have been very responsible."

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised those held in isolation at Arrowe Park hospital for setting a “good example” (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised those held in isolation at Arrowe Park hospital for setting a “good example” (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised those held in isolation at Arrowe Park hospital for setting a “good example” (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Mr Hancock said the steps are "very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country".

The gearing up of the Government's efforts comes as the UK's Covid-19 death toll rose on Saturday from 11 to 21, while the number of people testing positive for the disease passed the 1,000 mark.

Mr Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus.

Asked if that was in the Government's plan, he told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it's for their own self-protection."

Check out our live blog to see how the latest coronavirus developments unfolded

Belfast Telegraph