Arlene Foster ‘would like to move a little faster’ in easing NI lockdown

Arlene Foster has said she would like to “move a little faster” in easing Northern Ireland’s lockdown restrictions.

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

DUP Education Minister Peter Weir has tabled proposals to accelerate the return of children to classes.

Those are due to be discussed by his counterparts at Stormont on Thursday.

The First Minister said: “We are in a very good place.”

She told Belfast Live: “The vaccine is having an impact.

“There is always a pressure on us when we are in a good place to move faster.

“I would like to move a little faster but we cannot move so fast that we lose the advantage we have and then we have to take a step backwards.”

She said the pandemic had been hard on people.

“We just want to keep moving forward in the right direction so we can leave this in the rearview mirror.”

She expressed optimism about the summer.

“I think we are in a very good place at the moment.

“Over the last seven days, the rolling average, we have the lowest death rate across the British Isles per head of population.

“That is a good indicator that the vaccine is having an impact on numbers in hospital, numbers in intensive care and then unfortunately passing away with Covid-19.”

Mr Weir wants all primary school children to be in classes by March 22 and all secondary school children back at school after the Easter holidays on April 12.

The Stormont Executive is meeting on Thursday.

Stormont health advisers have previously stressed the need to stagger the resumption of face-to-face learning to provide sufficient time to analyse the impact of each phase on Covid-19 infection rates in the community.

Thousands of P1-P3 pupils returned to classes for the first time since December on Monday. Pre-school and nursery children also returned.

Under Stormont’s current phased plan for school return, the next pupils to resume face-to-face learning are secondary school pupils in key exam years, year groups 12-14, on March 22.

Mrs Foster previously said she hoped the Executive can have a “good discussion” on Thursday around the wider return to schools.

She has said the transmission rates are low.

The number of people vaccinated against coronavirus in Northern Ireland has passed 600,000.

Health Minister Robin Swann also confirmed that the largest delivery of vaccine doses yet has arrived in the region.

They are being distributed to GPs.

The next stage of the rollout will be announced early next week.

An expansion of the testing programme will cover the workforce in key sectors.