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Executive Office to meet university officials over coronavirus response as QUB students test positive


First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

The Executive Office will meet representatives of Northern Ireland's two universities today to discuss their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It comes after a number of students in Queen's University halls of residence in Belfast have been told to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus.

Speaking in the Assembly yesterday, First Minister Arlene Foster said the Executive Office planned to hold meetings with representatives from Queen's and Ulster University today.

The DUP leader said she was aware of a number of Queen's students self-isolating and sent them her "best wishes".

"There are many scare stories about our universities and our young people but I believe in our young people. I believe on the whole they want to do what is right and I'd appeal to them to abide by the public health guidance and the restrictions that are there."

A spokesperson for Queen's confirmed yesterday that a "small number" of students had tested positive. "Robust protocols are also in place to minimise the risk of the virus spreading," the spokesperson added.

It is understood that one accommodation block at the university's Elms Village in south Belfast has been asked to self-isolate. The number of students involved has been estimated in double figures.

The spokesperson said: "The university is working closely with the Public Health Agency and in line with their guidance all affected students or those who are considered to be at risk have been informed, asked to self-isolate and are being fully supported to do so.

"It is believed that transmission of the virus is taking place in social settings."

The First Minister welcomed police intervention in the Holyland area of south Belfast after hundreds of Covid notices were handed out to young people in the area for breaking the coronavirus regulations.

Both Queen's and Ulster University have suspended students as a result of their behaviour in the area.

Meanwhile, a Stormont minister has indicated she would look favourably on any request from Belfast City Council to bolster laws around multiple occupancy student homes.

Communities minister Caral Ni Chuilin said she would not "pass the buck" if asked to toughen up licensing laws on House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

Her comments come amid ongoing concern over house parties in breach of coronavirus regulations in the Holyland student area of Belfast.

There has also been long term concern about anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood and the number of HMOs licensed.

Ms Ni Chuilin told MLAs that if Belfast City Council wanted extra powers, it needed to inform her department, noting that she was not aware of any such request being lodged.

"If Belfast City Council officials feel that the powers that they have aren't strong enough then they need to feed that back to us," she said.

Belfast Telegraph