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Coronavirus: Arlene Foster confirms UK still in containment phase and US St Patrick's trip to go ahead

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Northern Ireland's First Minister, and Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 9, 2020, ahead of an emergency Cobra meeting into UK's developing coronavirus COVID-19 situation. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Northern Ireland's First Minister, and Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 9, 2020, ahead of an emergency Cobra meeting into UK's developing coronavirus COVID-19 situation. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

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DUP leader Arlene Foster arrives at the Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London, for a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra to discuss coronavirus. Pic : Yui Mok/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster arrives at the Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London, for a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra to discuss coronavirus. Pic : Yui Mok/PA Wire

PA

Northern Ireland's First Minister, and Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 9, 2020, ahead of an emergency Cobra meeting into UK's developing coronavirus COVID-19 situation. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed the UK remains in the containment phase of the coronavirus outbreak.

She also said they would be reviewing advice on whether to go ahead with their St Patrick's trip to Washington DC.

The DUP leader took part in the UK government's Cobra meeting alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Monday morning.

She said it was a useful engagement to hear from the chief medical officer and on the state of the country's preparedness.

"I think it is important as a nation we take a common sense approach," she said.

The UK remains in the first stage of the outbreak. The containment stage aims to catch early cases and contact anyone who may have been in touch with them to prevent spread and ease the burden on the health service.

The second stage - delay - would see the government ramp up efforts to prevent the spread, such as closing schools and cancelling large scale events and encouraging people to work from home.

The third stage of research sees the government intensify focus on how those infected can be treated effectively. While the fourth - mitigate - would come into being if there was a widespread outbreak in the worst case scenario. The impact on society would clearly be felt with police diverted to maintaining public order and the health service all but closed down to deal only with those with the virus or in need of critical care.

Mrs Foster said the advice to the public remained the same.

We have to make sure we have advice that goes out that is simple and everyone can understand," she told the BBC.

"Anyone who is feeling ill or has flu-like symptoms should stay at home and not go to work."

She said people should continue to follow hygiene guidelines on washing hands to prevent the spread.

"And really take a common sense approach," she added.

"That advice may change as the science changes."

The reason we go is we get very good access to the leader of the United States of America. Arlene Foster

The MLA said there was no advice on cancelling large public gatherings, but that could change and the UK Government was in constant contact with officials in Dublin.

"I know it is very uncertain for anyone who is planning an event or indeed attending an event," she continued.

"Because this is a new virus that we have not dealt with before, that is very virulent we just have to take scientific advice on all these matters."

There have been 280 confirmed cases in the UK with three deaths. In Northern Ireland there have been 12 confirmed cases with 21 in the Republic. There have been over 3,000 deaths around the world since the outbreak in China in December.

Mrs Foster said she was still travelling to America for St Patrick's Day. Her trip, along with deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has already been curtailed because of the outbreak and will only take in Washington and not New York for the beginning of the week. Economy Minister Diane Dodds is already in New York representing the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mrs Foster said they were still considering their options and if it was the right thing to do before their departure on Wednesday.

"The reason we go is we get very good access to the leader of the United States of America - who else could have had that access - and with business.

"We have to balance that with needs here in UK and NI - so we will be looking at that in the coming hours."

Belfast Telegraph