Home Poitics Coronavirus: Lockdown plan 'could be published on Tuesday'

Coronavirus: Lockdown plan ‘could be published on Tuesday’

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The Executive has already extended Northern Ireland’s lockdown until 28 May

A plan to take NI slowly out of lockdown could be published on Tuesday, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

The executive will meet to discuss the document later on Monday. It could be published within 24 hours if signed off by ministers.

They insist any changes to restrictions will be gradual and must be supported by scientific advice.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the first details of plans to ease lockdown in England.

Mrs Foster said devolution meant it was possible to have “localised solutions within a United Kingdom framework”.

The Executive has already extended lockdown in NI until 28 May.

‘Not out of the woods yet’

The prime minister emphasised a new “stay alert” slogan as opposed to the “stay at home” message, but it has been rejected by politicians in Northern Ireland, who have continued to emphasise the original message.

Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill took part in a call with the government’s emergency Cobra committee, including the prime minister, on Sunday afternoon.

Mrs Foster said on Sunday evening “we have flattened the curve of infection, reduced the R-rate to below one and protected our health service but we are not out of the woods yet”.

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“It is important that we continue to follow this advice,” she added.

“As the executive begins to finalise our plans for recovery, we need to strike the balance between continuing to protect lives and the health service and give people hope for the future.

“The changes that we will introduce will be gradual, proportionate and based on scientific and medical advice and will be taken at the right time and in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”

‘Big decisions’

Ms O’Neill said: “We are at a critical stage in the fight against the virus and so our recovery must be phased, gradual and strategic”.

She added: “The decisions this executive will take in the days and weeks ahead are some of the biggest we will ever have to make.

“We know that six weeks into the restrictions, people need some light at the end of the tunnel.

“We also know that recovery will only happen one step at a time, to do otherwise risks undermining the sacrifices people have already made and increases the risk of a second spike in the future.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann both tweeted “stay at home” messages on Sunday.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that in a cross-party call with the prime minister on Sunday, he had expressed concerns about the “stay alert” message.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the new message in England was “total nonsense”.

“It’s not a burglar we are trying to fight, it’s a virus,” Mr Eastwood said.

“Staying alert does nothing to stop it, but staying at home does.”

The Foyle MP said effective testing and tracing has been proven to work in other countries “who have survived this” and said there is no sense that such a testing strategy is ready in United Kingdom.

The SDLP leader has reiterated calls for an “all-Ireland testing approach” and said doing so would not be “for any political reason”.

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Colum Eastwood said he felt the “stay alert” message “does not make any sense”

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said: “It is our strong belief that now is not the time to change the message or direction.

“Until the R rate is reduced we must continue to keep staying home, keep protecting our NHS & above all, keep saving lives.”

On Sunday, it was reported that five more people diagnosed with coronavirus have died in Northern Ireland.

That brings the number of Covid-19 related deaths to 435, according to Department of Health figures.

These figures are one of two sets published in Northern Ireland.

The others are weekly statistics from Northern Ireland’s Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which cover all fatalities where coronavirus has been recorded on the death certificate.

Figures released by Northern Ireland’s Statistics Agency (Nisra) on Friday showed there have been 516 coronavirus-related deaths recorded overall in NI – including 232 in care homes, and four in hospices.

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