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Editor's Viewpoint

Stormont Executive unity key to coronavirus fight

Editor's Viewpoint


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An electron microscope image of the coronavirus released by the US’s National Institutes of Health

An electron microscope image of the coronavirus released by the US’s National Institutes of Health

National Institutes of Health/AF

An electron microscope image of the coronavirus released by the US’s National Institutes of Health

At last the certainty that parents, children and teachers were demanding. All schools in Northern Ireland will close from Monday, although some have already taken that step.

However, as with practically every measure taken in the fight to contain or at least slow down the spread of coronavirus, there will be myriad of consequences to deal with, none of them easy to resolve.

With children out of school, many parents will have to adjust their routines to look after them.

For those able to work from home the problem is considerably less than for those unable to do so. And for those working in the health service and other emergency occupations, such as police and the fire and ambulance services, special arrangements will have to be devised to help with childminding.

The usual standby of enlisting grandparents to look after the children is not an option. Children appear resistant to the disease, but older people are particularly at risk.

However, perhaps to many children's dismay, closing schools does not mean the end of lessons. Online teaching modules are being devised by schools and there is a clear wish that examinations be held as soon as practical. Much depends on how long the present crisis lasts, although more announcements are expected in the next few days.

There is also the question of what happens to those children who were eligible for free school meals. For some that may have been the most nutritious meal of the day and its loss could have a significant health impact.

The question of when to close the schools revealed a fault line in the Executive last week, with First Minister Arlene Foster saying Northern Ireland would follow the UK's advice, while deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill argued the next day that schools should close immediately in line with what was happening in the Republic.

Both women stood shoulder-to-shoulder yesterday to announce the school closures and a series of economic measures to help businesses. This is what the public wants to see: an Executive working in unison against a virus which respects no borders or political allegiances.

A common enemy demands a common approach. This is an acid test for the devolved administration. If ever leadership was needed from local politicians, it is now.

We hope they can rise to the challenge.

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