A SENIOR Sinn Fein MLA has been criticised after he accused the UK Government of carrying out a 'twisted medical experiment' in its approach to handling the coronavirus crisis.
Alongside a photo of the Prime Minister, former Stormont Education Minister John O'Dowd tweeted: "Let's be clear, this shire of b******* are using everyone of us in some form of twisted medical experiment.
"Do you honestly believe the rest of Europe is wrong & this balloon and his ilk are right. If you are not angry it's time to get angry, we are on the brink of disaster!" the Upper Bann MLA wrote.
Unionist figures slammed the Sinn Fein representative's remarks. The DUP described his tweet as "twisted rhetoric" and "narrow political point scoring".
Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton said: "This is a time for calm heads and decisions to be taken based on the best scientific advice.
"For our part we will be led by the advice of those who are world leaders in the fields of science and medicine.
"Those who wish to take another path and who engage in reckless rhetoric and narrow party political point scoring will be seen for what they are by the public.
"Mr O'Dowd and his party should reflect on their language. Everyone is worried but this is not a time for insults. It's a time to work together.
"We are concentrating on the challenges ahead so as to protect the people of NI."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie commented: "It's people like this that create fear and panic - utterly pathetic." Mr O'Dowd made his criticism a day after Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister opened up a split in the Stormont Executive when she called for schools in Northern Ireland to follow the Republic's lead and close.
First Minister Mrs Foster said on Saturday she would only close schools "when we are advised on the medical evidence".
"Children will be at home for quite a considerable period of time, given that when we do close the schools they will be closed for at least 16 weeks," she said. "Then of course you are into the summer period, so they will be off school for a very long time."
Ulster Unionist councillor Stuart Hughes also slammed Mr O'Dowd's tweet: "Most un-parliamentary language that does nothing but ratchet up tensions and divide our communities.
"John O'Dowd is also trashing the credentials of people who have significant scientific experience and expertise as opposed to being a rent-a-quote like him."
Eleven new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Northern Ireland, with the biggest single-day increase so far bringing the total number of infections to 45.
Northern Ireland's first community transmission cases were confirmed on Friday, with three of the nine cases confirmed on Saturday contracted in the same way.
In the Republic, 39 new cases were announced on Saturday, bringing the total for the whole island of Ireland to 174.
The Department of Health here said people with mild symptoms - a new persistent cough and/or a fever - should stay at home and self-isolate for seven days. Meanwhile, elderly people in Northern Ireland will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months as part of UK-wide plans to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is a "very big ask", but described it as a measure which is for their own "self-protection".