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Northern Ireland will keep ‘Stay at home, save lives’ message, says Foster

The First Minister said Northern Ireland will have a ‘road map’ for moving out of lockdown at the beginning of the week.

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Arlene Foster has said Northern Ireland will sticking with the ‘Stay at home, save lives’ message (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Arlene Foster has said Northern Ireland will sticking with the ‘Stay at home, save lives’ message (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Arlene Foster has said Northern Ireland will sticking with the ‘Stay at home, save lives’ message (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has said the region will not adopt the UK Government’s new coronavirus slogan, instead sticking with the “Stay at home, save lives” message.

The Stormont Executive will meet on Monday to consider its plan for a phased, strategic approach to recovery at its meeting ahead of outlining its own road map this week.

It comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “conditional plan” to reopen society as the coronavirus lockdown continues.

Leaders of the UK’s devolved nations have rejected Mr Johnson’s new “stay alert” advice in favour of keeping the “stay at home” message.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decisions the Executive will take in the days and weeks ahead “are some of the biggest we will ever have to make”.

She said: “We know that six weeks into the restrictions, people need some light at the end of the tunnel. We also know that recovery will only happen one step at a time, to do otherwise risks undermining the sacrifices people have already made and increases the risk of a second spike in the future.”

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland radio on Sunday, Mrs Foster said: “On the whole, the message is to stay at home. We will say we are not deviating from the message at this time.”

“It is important for people to know we are not doing this in a nanny state way. Once we can move, we will move.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has told Mr Johnson the new slogan is “a nonsense”.

He tweeted: “Just spoke to @BorisJohnson about the address he will make tonight. I made it clear that his new ‘Stay Alert’ message is a nonsense. I also stressed the need for a cautious plan to move beyond full lockdown. That plan has to include a proper all Ireland testing and tracing system.”

Deputy Alliance Party leader Stephen Farry also criticised the new slogan.

He tweeted: “Just off a cross-party call with PM. Expressed our concerns with ‘Stay Alert’ message, both in terms of substance and mixing the message across UK. Also asked that future of economic measures reflects different circumstances across UK. Plus reinforced need for Brexit extension.”

Mrs Foster said there may be slight differences to how the lockdown measures are eased across the UK, but warned that Northern Ireland’s would be nuanced.

Northern Ireland’s reproductive rate (R0) – the number of people an infected person infects – is currently at 0.8.

Mrs Foster said that is higher than some areas in England and it needs to be driven down before the region can move to relax measures.

Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she said: “We will be looking at some nuanced changes throughout that time and we will await to hear what the Prime Minister has to say today.

“But I think, in terms of the Northern Ireland public, it is important that we continue to protect them and make sure this virus does not start transmitting again in the community in a way that would cause damage to the community.”

Mrs Foster said the lockdown could be eased in different regions as Northern Ireland’s rate of transmission is higher than other regions in the UK.

“Sage, and indeed our own chief medical officer, do indeed recognise that there are different rates of transmission across the United Kingdom,” she said.

“There are differences across the UK, regional differences; I think the Prime Minister recognises those regional differences and, as a result, you may see slight differences across the UK.”

Asked if it is a good idea that the lockdown could be re-applied to different regions if required, she said it is important that Northern Ireland moves in cohesion with the rest of the UK.

“It is important that we do what is right in our region of the United Kingdom moving forward. That is why we are coming with our road plan early next week. It will set out how we can take graduated steps back to what will be a different normality.”

On Sunday, another five Covid-19 deaths were reported in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said, taking total fatalities to 435.

A further 41 positive cases were also diagnosed, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 4,119.

PA