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Ministers discuss how to lift Northern Ireland coronavirus lockdown


Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Northern Ireland Executive ministers have been discussing how lockdown measures could be eased.

Health Minister Robin Swann has indicated restrictions such as social distancing could be in place for “months if not years”.

However, as other countries begin to lift their restrictions, there have been calls for the Executive to outline its plans.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

The first and deputy first ministers have begun work with the head of the civil service on the coronavirus recovery plan and how lockdown could be lifted.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said it had to be a “staged approach” in a flexible process not necessarily led by a time frame and which could go back and forward in its various stages.

“We don’t necessarily put dates against those stages because I think that has to be led by the level of transmission within the community,” she told BBC Radio Foyle.

We need to have a strategy here in Northern Ireland that is coordinated with what happens in the south, because we are likely to be emerging on a more similar trajectory. Naomi Long

“But I do think we can say at different stages what life would look like, what we will expect from the public.”

“That gives us the opportunity if at any point we see resurgence of the virus in the community, also to be able to go back a stage because it won’t necessarily be a linear progression from where we are now to whatever the new normal will look like,” she said.

Mrs Long said Northern Ireland’s exit strategy should be based on a coordinated approach both cross-border and with the UK.

“We need to have a strategy here in Northern Ireland that is coordinated with what happens in the south, because we are likely to be emerging on a more similar trajectory,” she said.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she hoped an announcement would be made on the phased lifting of lockdown over the next two weeks.

She told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, changes had to be “predicated on the science”.

Widespread community tracing and testing has to be stepped up. Deirdre Hargey

The ability to do more community testing and tracing will have an impact on how and when restrictions are lifted, she said.

“If you are starting to look at easing, widespread community tracing and testing has to be stepped up,” she said.

“A plan is being developed and brought forward to increase capacity and the amount of people who are going to have community testing and tracing – this absolutely has to fit with any plan in easing restrictions.”

But she said the phased approach will be based on scientific and medical advice and not the “loudest voices” of public opinion.

“I think there is a concern that if we move too quickly that you will get a second run of this virus which would have even worse consequences for the public,” she said.

Leaked draft plans for how the UK Government intends to get people back into work were revealed on Monday.

They included reducing hot-desking, closing canteens, restricting numbers in lifts and putting in place screens to protect workers.

It was also proposed there should be more cleaning, staggered shifts and more parking spaces for those workers that car-share their commute to travel separately.

Under the plans, companies will have to draw up a Covid-19 "risk assessment" before allowing staff to return to work, the documents suggest.

The guidance also says social distancing will have to be maintained, whether on the shop floor, in shopping queues, or in communal spaces.

Justice Minister Naomi Long pointed out that businesses in Northern Ireland rely on UK Government funding, which needs to be considered in the easing of restrictions.

“Much of the funding that supports people through this will come from London so we have to be cognisant of that,” she said.

“We can’t ask businesses here to stay closed if the funding to support them in that endeavour is drying up from London with no replacement.

“We have to factor that into our plan in a way that in the south they don’t.”

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