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Remote learning for schoolchildren to be extended as coronavirus cases soar

First Minister Arlene Foster said the decision was reached after Ministers had ‘reflected on the seriousness of the situation here’.

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Northern Ireland faces a ‘dire’ situation as the pandemic worsens, Arlene Foster warned (DUP/PA)

Northern Ireland faces a ‘dire’ situation as the pandemic worsens, Arlene Foster warned (DUP/PA)

Northern Ireland faces a ‘dire’ situation as the pandemic worsens, Arlene Foster warned (DUP/PA)

A period of remote learning for schoolchildren in Northern Ireland is to be extended amid soaring coronavirus cases, the First Minister has said.

Speaking on Monday night, Arlene Foster said ministers had “reflected on the seriousness of the situation here” before coming to the decision.

The Executive is to reconvene on Tuesday to confirm details of the proposal, but it is believed it could extend beyond January.

We think that is necessary given the huge rise in positive cases here in Northern IrelandFirst Minister Arlene Foster

Mrs Foster said: “I think it’s fair to say that we will have to engage in more remote learning at schools.

“We want to look at the finer details of that in and around vulnerable children and special needs children.

“One of the learning points from the first lockdown was the fact that a lot of special needs to children need to have the ability to go to their place of schooling so they can deal with medical procedures and issues like that.”

The most recent plan was for primary pupils to be taught remotely for the week from January 4-8, while for secondary school Years 8 to 11, remote learning is due to last for the entire month.

It is expected that creches, nurseries and day care centres will remain open for children of key workers, as has happened in England.

In addition to the measures in schools, stay at home advice is to be put into legislation, while the Executive is also set to examine international travel advice.

Mrs Foster said: “We will be putting that message of stay at home back into law again.

“The message will be stay at home unless you have a reason to leave home. Those reasons will be put into law. We think that is necessary given the huge rise in positive cases here in Northern Ireland.”

She added: “In terms of travel as well, something we discussed today with the other administrations across the United Kingdom, because we recognise that international travel will have to be reviewed again as well.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that remote learning would be extended, stay at home advice will be put into legislation and travel rules will be updated.

The Executive is to meet again on Tuesday, when the Education and Health Ministers are to put forward a set of detailed proposals, including recommendations on this year’s exams.

In a tweet following the meeting, Ms O’Neill said: “In addition to the restrictions already in place….Remote learning will be extended. Stay at home will be put in to regulation.

“Travel will be revisited. Education & Health Minister to bring detail of proposals to meeting of Exec tomorrow to include recommendations on exams”.

Ministers will update the Assembly on Wednesday on any decisions made at Tuesday’s meeting.

Northern Ireland faces a “dire” situation as the pandemic worsens, Arlene Foster warned earlier.

The First Minister expressed disappointment about “huge” crowds gathered at coastal resorts.

The country is in the second week of a six-week lockdown in which non-essential retail is closed, and people are urged to stay at home.

But, amid soaring numbers of coronavirus infections, ministers took part in an urgent meeting on Monday evening, with Mrs Foster saying the Stormont Executive has “very difficult decisions to take”.

The most recent plan was for primary pupils to be taught remotely for the week from January 4-8, while for secondary school Years 8 to 11, remote learning is due to last for the entire month.

Mrs Foster said: “The advice coming to us is that we will need to take action and that we’ll need to take action very quickly.”

She added: “I was very clear that I would like to keep schools open for as long as possible but if it is the case that we do need to close schools as we did in March of last year, I will deeply regret that, but we will of course take whatever action is needed based on the medical evidence in front of us.”

The First Minister also expressed disappointment at the number of gatherings, and said ministers will speak to police about enforcement.

She added: “Just today I was sent photographs of Portstewart and Portrush over the past couple of days and there were huge crowds gathering together and I really regret that.”

Almost 100 house parties were broken up by police in Northern Ireland over the last week, despite strict rules against indoor gatherings.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland also issued 339 £200 fines for breaches of the coronavirus regulations.

Meanwhile, a pensioner who survived the Second World War Blitz expressed relief after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Everyone aged over 80 will be inoculated in Northern Ireland within a few short weeks, health officials said, in a “step change” in the race against time to deliver immunity.

West Belfast GP Michael McKenna administered the first coronavirus jabs, releasing older people from the “jail” sentence they have been under while shielding for the last nine months.

Afterwards, white-bearded John Grey, 84, leaned on his walking stick and said: “I am relieved, let’s say that.”

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John Grey, 84, receives the first of two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Liam McBurney/PA)

John Grey, 84, receives the first of two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Liam McBurney/PA)

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John Grey, 84, receives the first of two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Liam McBurney/PA)

Up to 11,000 people aged over 80 are set to receive the jab this week as the health service struggles with soaring number of hospital admissions.

Another 1,801 people have tested positive for Covid-19, the Department of Health said on Monday.

That makes 12,507 diagnoses over the last seven days.

Another 12 deaths have been reported.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said “urgent and decisive” action was required.
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