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Effect of coronavirus pandemic will be felt throughout Northern Ireland for many years to come, warns Arlene Foster

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Arlene Foster during yesterday’s briefing

Arlene Foster during yesterday’s briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Michelle O’Neill during yesterday’s briefing

Michelle O’Neill during yesterday’s briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Arlene Foster during yesterday’s briefing

The impact of Covid-19 on life in Northern Ireland has "dramatically altered society" and will have implications on our way of life "for many years to come", the First Minister has warned.

Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill outlined the position facing Northern Ireland at yesterday's daily briefing on the crisis.

The Stormont leaders revealed that progress is continuing on the Executive's 'pathway to recovery' to bring Northern Ireland gradually out of lockdown.

The update came as a further six deaths were reported here yesterday, bringing Northern Ireland's death toll to 387.

There were another 69 confirmed cases of the disease, taking the total to 3,836.

Five of the notified deaths happened in the previous 24 hours, with the remaining deaths occurring prior to that, although it was only reported yesterday.

The overall number of UK deaths rose by 288, bringing the total to 28,734.

Meanwhile, in the Republic the death toll rose yesterday to 1,319, after a further 16 deaths were announced by its National Public Health Emergency Team.

Mrs Foster said Northern Ireland's plan had to be "science-led, proportionate" and designed to ensure the region avoided a second spike in cases.

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Michelle O’Neill during yesterday’s briefing

Michelle O’Neill during yesterday’s briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Michelle O’Neill during yesterday’s briefing

"None of these decisions are easy," she said.

"If we had not implemented those restrictions, the first wave would have been a lot worse than it has been.

"As we have said before, all governments are grappling with the implications of a public health crisis that we never, ever thought would come to pass.

"And Covid-19 has dramatically altered society and will have implications for the way we live for many years to come."

She stressed the measures to tackle Covid-19 are likely to be with us for "some time".

"We have to learn to live with the virus while continuing to suppress it," said Mrs Foster.

"Social distancing and other measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are likely to be with us for some time." The Executive is "working actively" on the plan, stressed Mrs Foster, acknowledging Northern Ireland was now in its seventh week of lockdown.

Mrs O'Neill said the Stormont plan could be published later this week, just ahead of the government, which is expected to unveil its proposal on Sunday.

However, the Sinn Fein vice-president warned that should not be viewed as a "green light" for people to return to normal.

Mrs O'Neill confirmed the Executive plan will not follow the Republic's, which is a five-stage process with linked timelines and provisional dates.

Starting on May 18, the Republic will move from one phase to another every three weeks, as long as health experts deem it safe to do so.

The Republic's Health Minister Simon Harris has said it makes scientific sense for the two recovery plans to be as closely aligned as possible.

However, Mrs Foster said the Executive did not receive advance sight of the Republic's plan before it was published last Friday evening and announced on Irish television by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The deputy First Minister also expressed misgivings over specific dates being issued as part of Northern Ireland's recovery plan - a feature of the Republic's plan.

"I think there are difficulties presented by putting down dates, the reason being people then work to that," she said.

"And what if something happens, because we know that we have to monitor every action and see what that means in terms of the virus spread.

"I think that it's difficult to go into calendar-led announcements, given that people then make their plans based on that and then they'll be very disappointed if that's not the case."

Mrs Foster said Northern Ireland's plan would be guided by the requirement to keep the region's infection rate below one and ensuring the pressures on the health care system remain manageable.

Mrs O'Neill also urged the public not to flout the social distancing restrictions, stressing that if we had not adopted the lockdown, the difference would have been like "night and day".

"Covid-19 is still present, still spreading and still around us, and it is also still taking lives," she said.

"So I'm appealing to the public: please don't take matters into your own hands.

"The Executive is working through all the issues to reach conclusions on what our pathway to recovery is going to look like."

She stressed the plan, when it is published, is not a "green light" for people to ignore social distancing rules.

"It is crucial that we adopt the safest possible approach to relaxing the measures," explained the deputy First Minister.

"And please be assured that everything we do will be considered, measured and be informed by extensive scientific and medical advice."

Belfast Telegraph