Northern Ireland reports nine more cases of coronavirus

Highest daily total to date comes as Sinn Féin calls for all-Ireland approach to crisis

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill:  “There has been contradictory medical evidence out there. It’s a problem for people when they are trying to make the right decision for them and their families.”  Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill: “There has been contradictory medical evidence out there. It’s a problem for people when they are trying to make the right decision for them and their families.” Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA

 

Nine new Covid-19 cases have been reported in Northern Ireland, including the first examples of infections where people had not travelled to an affected area, or were not infected by another who had.

The rise is the highest daily total so far, according to the Public Health Agency, though it said it had expected the emergence of such cases, given the experience to date in the Republic.

Describing the news as “disappointing”, First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We know that this is going to spread across Northern Ireland and there will be many people who will become victims.”

Schools and colleges

It came after differences emerged between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill over whether Northern Ireland’s school and colleges should be closed

On Thursday, Ms O’Neill said they should not be closed, despite the decision taken by the southern authorities. On Friday, however, she called for immediate closure, citing the need for an all-island approach.

Explaining her change of mind, Ms O’Neill said: “There has been contradictory medical evidence out there, [it] is a problem. It’s a problem for people when they are trying to make the right decision for them and their families.”

Northern health minister Robin Swann, who continues to say that closure is not appropriate now, met with British secretary of state for health Matt Hancock in Stormont on Friday to discuss the crisis.

North-South meeting

“I will continue to be led by the science. At this moment in time, I have no evidence to justify school closures and indeed to do so at this stage may even be counterproductive,” he said.

On Saturday, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will join Northern colleagues at a special North-South Covid-19 ministerial meeting in Co Armagh.

The DUP is unhappy that advance notice of the decision to close the Republic’s schools was not shared with Belfast : “Both sides have the same objectives of protecting their communities,” said a spokesman.

A Government source in Dublin said the northern executive had been notified at the same time as Ministers in the South: “It is another jurisdiction with different standards, and it was hardly going to follow our lead,” said the source.