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We've joined with Republic to order staff protective gear, says Finance Minister Conor Murphy

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Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Finance Minister Conor Murphy

Health authorities on both sides of the Irish border are involved in the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) from China, a Stormont minister has said.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy confirmed the news at yesterday's Covid-19 update and comes after health unions had expressed concerns over a lack of PPE for private health workers, as well as NHS staff, earlier this week.

The order of PPE came after the Public Health Agency earlier announced that another three people had died after contracting coronavirus, bringing the total to 13 in Northern Ireland.

Another 34 people were tested positive for the virus here, bringing that total to 275 cases.

Of those who have tested positive, 100 (36%) were aged 0 to 44; 95 (35%) were 45 to 69; and 80 (29%) were aged 70 or older. Of those, 126 were female and 149 were male.

Mr Murphy said the Executive is also working with the UK procurement system for PPE but he declined to outline how much has been ordered or when it is due to arrive.

"We've today agreed that joint order with Dublin, there is procurement going on with the British system as well, but I think to be prudent we want to ensure that if the crisis that is coming our way becomes more severe in Britain and those supply lines across the Irish Sea start to dry up, that we have our own supplies," he stated.

"This is a joint effort with the Dublin Government, the order has been placed, so I can't give certainty in terms of the flights, but we obviously want to get it here as quickly as possibly."

Before that, at their daily Stormont press conference, Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers appeared to send conflicting messages as they address advice to workers and business.

Mrs Foster announced the formation of a new forum to allow businesses and employee representatives to discuss concerns over safe working practices.

However, Ms O'Neill said the UK Government's approach had hampered efforts to develop the new regulations and guidance.

First Minister Arlene Foster said those who cannot work from home should go to work as long as there are social distancing measures in place, but Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said all non-essential businesses should close immediately.

Mrs Fosters said: "I reinforce that our key focus is on safety on all of our community and there is a heavy onus of responsibility on our employers and I very much recognise that," she continued.

However, Ms O'Neill then said: "I repeat my call again on non-essential businesses to close immediately. Not tomorrow, not next week but now.

"Do this for the safety of your family, do it for the safety of their families, do it for the safety of your workers, do it for the wider community and particularly those most at risk."

First Minister Arlene Foster encouraged everyone to reach out to elderly neighbours, friends and relatives as their self-isolation continues.

Meanwhile, Ms Foster explained that both she and Ms O'Neill had spoken to the Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, to listen to his concerns over those who are self-isolating alone.

Belfast Telegraph