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Foster and O'Neill cancel St Patrick's Day trip to Washington over coronavirus

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Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (/PA)

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (/PA)

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (/PA)

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill have cancelled their planned trip to Washington on Wednesday as part of the St Patrick's Day celebrations.

The Executive Office confirmed Northern Ireland's First and deputy First Minister were cancelling their trip due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mrs Foster said that while it was "an enormous opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland in DC," their "priority is dealing with the spread of coronavirus".

Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill will attend a COBRA meeting on the coronavirus at Downing Street on Wednesday.

They had been due to stay in Washington until Friday and attend the annual White House St Patrick's Day reception.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds is currently in the United States to host a programme of events promoting business investment in Northern Ireland.

The Executive Office said that she will "attend a number of engagements with influential stakeholders over the coming days in Washington to deliver the message that Northern Ireland is open for business".

Mrs Foster outlined the reasons for the cancellation.

“This has been a difficult decision but we felt that in the light of the developing situation it was the only one we could take," the DUP leader said.

"The deputy First Minister and I were both involved in yesterday’s COBRA meeting and will continue to engage with ministerial colleagues and health professionals to ensure our response is guided by the latest scientific advice. While it is disappointing to cancel this important trip, our focus has to be on fulfilling our role in protecting public health.”

Ms O'Neill said an all-Ireland co-ordination between health and medical professionals on a daily basis.

"I am in regular contact with Tanaiste Simon Coveney and health ministers north and south are also working closely," the Sinn Fein vice-President said.

“It is regrettable that we must suspend our travel to the US to meet with political leaders and potential investors, but it is necessary.

“We were going to deliver the message that the north is open for business and is a great place to invest.

“We look forward to working with the new Special Envoy Mick Mulvaney and his colleague, Consul General Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, to build on our strong economic links as we work to protect our interests after Brexit.”

Belfast Telegraph