Children to be tested for Covid-19 in schools could become part of NI's 'additional testing' scheme - Executive's recovery plan labelled 'cliche ridden algorithm for dither' - Plan offers 'careful, cautious and hopeful' insists Michelle O'Neill

Testing children for Covid-19 within schools could be about to become part of an "additional testing" scheme for Northern Ireland, said deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 6:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 9:10 am

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Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus Children to be tested for Covid-19 in schools could become part of NI’s ‘additional testing’ scheme

Last updated: Tuesday, 02 March, 2021, 18:30

Children to be tested for Covid-19 in schools could become part of NI's 'additional testing' scheme

Testing children for Covid-19 within schools could be about to become part of an "additional testing" scheme for Northern Ireland, said deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill.

Deputy First Minister O’Neill commented on the possibility of increasing the testing capacity in schools by using rapid flow tests.

Lateral flow tests are already in use in schools in England and take approximately 30 minutes to return a result.

Ms. O’Neill made the remark while answering questions from MLAs on the Northern Ireland Executive’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

“There is going to be additional testing - there’s talk about developing testing within schools,” she said.

“They would use lateral flow tests which are turned around quick.

“It’s by adopting a combination of measures that will help us to ease the restrictions in a safe and cautious way,” she said.

TUV leader and MLA for North Antrim, Jim Allister, labelled the Executive’s plan a “cliche ridden algorithm for dither”.

One of Northern Ireland’s top business chiefs and former Executive minister and DUP MLA, Simon Hamilton, said the plan was “grossly underwhelming” - Mr. Hamilton is now the Chief Executive of the Belfast Chamber.

IN FULL: NI The nine areas of society and five step Covid-19 recovery plan

WATCH LIVE: Northern Ireland Executive unveils Covid-19 recovery plan

Lockdown to be reviewed earlier than originally thought by Executive

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to bring forward its review of the current lockdown restrictions, according to sources.

The current set of restrictions started on December 26, 2020 and they were supposed to be in place for six weeks but the Executive has signed off on two extensions since that time.

Be that as it may, it is believed the Executive has agreed to bring forward a review of the current restrictions.

The current lockdown is set to remain in place until April 1 and was due to be reviewed on Thursday March 18 but Stormont ministers are said to have agreed to bring the review forward to Tuesday March 16.

The specific details of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Covid recovery plan will be set-out by deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, in the Assembly in Stormont this afternoon - watch it live below.

Stormont ministers set to sign off on NI’s lockdown exit plan

The plan is expected to be published on Tuesday.

Stormont ministers are set to sign off a phased plan for taking Northern Ireland out of lockdown - writes David Young and Michael McHugh, PA.

Ministers are meeting on Tuesday morning to review the final version of the much anticipated strategy.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is later expected to unveil the document on the floor of the Assembly in Belfast on behalf of her and First Minister Arlene Foster.

It is understood the plan focuses on nine key areas – retail; hospitality; education and young people; work; culture, heritage and entertainment; sports and leisure; travel and tourism; worship and ceremonies; home and community.

Each will emerge from lockdown in stages. It is understood the stages are lockdown; cautious first steps; gradual easing; further easing; and preparing for the future.

Ministers have already made clear the blueprint will be led by data, not dates, with decisions on when to move between stages based on scientific and medical data, not the calendar.

Keeping the reproductive rate of the virus below 1 will be a guiding principle.

The executive will review the progress of the pathway at set points, understood to be every four weeks.

The PA news agency understands that the plan will state: “Progress through the phases will be based on a range of evidence and will seek to balance the benefits for us with the potential impact on the transmission of the virus.

“This means we may be in different phases across the nine pathways at any given time.”

Ministers met on Monday to examine the plan and asked officials to bring more clarity to some specific areas ahead of Tuesday morning’s meeting of the devolved administration.

Northern Ireland’s lockdown and accompanying stay-at-home message is currently in place until April 1. Ministers are due to review that policy on March 18.

The executive has already outlined plans for a phased return of face-to-face learning at schools.

Only vulnerable children and those of key workers have been attending classes in mainstream schools since January.

P1 to P3 primary school children will return to school on March 8, and on March 22 secondary school children in key exam years – years 12-14 – will go back to class.

On that same date, the P1 to P3s are currently due to revert to home learning for one week ahead of the Easter holidays – to mitigate the impact on infection rates of the secondary school cohort’s return.

However, officials from the departments of health and education were asked last week to examine that aspect of the plan and Mrs Foster has expressed hope that those primary pupils will ultimately be able to remain in school that week.

No date has so far been given for the return of the wider school population.

Covid-19 vaccinations have been extended to people aged 60-64 in Northern Ireland.

Those eligible are urged to book online for appointments at health trust mass vaccination centres, the Department of Health said.

More than half a million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Northern Ireland.

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