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Schools, creches and colleges shut down for next fortnight to slow down Covid-19

Leo Varadkar announced the closures will run until March 29.

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Leo Varadkar announced the closures will run until March 29 (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar announced the closures will run until March 29 (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar announced the closures will run until March 29 (Niall Carson/PA)

The Republic of Ireland’s schools, colleges and creches will shut today and indoor and outdoor gatherings will be limited in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar announced the closures will run until March 29.

Indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people or outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled, he said.

Coronavirus “will continue to spread, but it can be slowed,” he said.

Our approach is different as there are no signs of community transferRobin Swann, Northern Ireland’s health minister

The Republic of Ireland recorded 27 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday – the biggest spike so far – bringing its number of confirmed cases to 70.

There has been one confirmed death of someone with the virus; an elderly woman with an underlying illness who died on Thursday.

Northern Ireland on Thursday recorded two new cases, bringing its total to 20.

Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, said deaths should also be expected in Northern Ireland but that so far it was not “in the same place” as the Republic of Ireland.

“Our approach is different as there are no signs of community transfer,” he said.

Stormont ministers have insisted it is not the right time to close Northern Ireland schools over coronavirus.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill acknowledged the closure announcement in the Irish Republic had left parents north of the border with many questions.

Mrs Foster, who expressed disappointment that the Irish government had given Stormont no prior notification of its move, insisted closures would be “counter-productive”.

The contrast in strategies being deployed by political leaders has been questioned as Northern Ireland’s open land border with the Republic means children attending classes just a few miles away will be ordered to stay at home.

Mrs Foster said the infection was more advanced in Ireland, with community transfer of the virus between patients with no links to overseas travel.

Taoiseach Mr Varadkar was asked during his visit to Washington DC on Thursday for his reaction to the different approaches across the border.

“We are different jurisdictions, different decisions will be made but we are going to keep in very close contact so that we inform each other of decisions we’re making and our thinking behind them,” he said.

Cultural institutions and tourist attractions will also close, while people are being told to work from home if possible.

The measures are not as extreme as those being taken in Italy as public transport will continue to operate and shops and cafes will also stay open.

On Tuesday, the government cancelled the St Patrick’s Day parades which attract hundreds of thousands of overseas visitors, as concern around the virus escalated.

Meanwhile, Business Minister Heather Humphreys urged people to stay calm and not to stockpile groceries as photos emerged on social media of supermarkets with empty shelves.

“People do not need to panic buy. Supermarkets and shops will remain open. Stockpiling could cause problems – please don’t do it,” she tweeted.

PA