Coronavirus: Arlene Foster says UK lockdown ‘won’t be easy but for the best’

Arlene Foster has said it will not be easy to obey Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tough new clampdown, but it is essential to save lives.

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 9:47 pm
Reporters observed social distancing advice at Monday’s joint press conference at Stormont by Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill

She was reacting to Mr Johnson’s televised address to the nation on Monday night, when he said if people fail to follow medical guidelines, “the police will have the powers to enforce them”.

Just hours earlier, First Minister Mrs Foster had declared that she will involve the police in pursuing coronavirus rule-breakers if needs be.

It comes after widespread examples of members of the public ignoring social distancing advice, which states that if they have to venture out, they must stay six feet away from other people.

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The Mater Hospital on the Crumlin Road will become Belfast’s official ‘Covid-19 hospital’

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that some people have been treating the crisis as if it were a “holiday”, and such behaviour must end now.

After Mr Johnson spoke, ordering the immediate closure of “non-essential” shops and a ban on events including weddings, Mrs Foster wrote on Twitter: “We need to follow this advice to save lives and protect our hospitals. People should stay in unless it’s essential to go out. It won’t be easy but it’s for the best.”

It comes ahead of Tuesday’s planned introduction to Stormont of a legislative consent motion on the Coronavirus Bill, designed to create fresh powers to combat Covid-19 (which at time of writing had infected around 6,650 people in the UK, with over 330 deaths).

In Northern Ireland the death toll has risen to three, with the latest victim being in their late 60s with underlying health conditions. They died in hospital in the greater Belfast area.

The toll of infected people in the Province rose today by 20, taking it to 148 cases.

Of those cases 52 were aged up to 44, 51 were aged from 45 to 69, and 45 were aged 70 or over. Females accounted for 64 cases, males 84. Northern Ireland’s first confirmed case was on February 23.

The legislative consent motion at Stormont tomorrow will ask MLAs to “endorse the principle” of extending the Coronavirus Bill, which was before MPs in the Commons on last night, to Northern Ireland.

The bill was drafted late last week, and was designed to deal with a raft of measures from suspending the need for coroner’s courts to hold jury inquests into Covid-19 deaths, to giving the Department of Health powers for “preventing the spread of infection or contamination by means of any vessel, aircraft, train or other conveyance”.

In a press conference, Mrs Foster said: “These are abnormal times, requiring each of us to change our normal patterns of behaviour.

“But unfortunately over the weekend we have seen individuals right across Northern Ireland who are not heeding the advice on social distancing.

“If people don’t follow these guidelines the coronavirus will spread, it will surge, and it will result in a wave of deaths.”

She added: “We will, as other governments have done, use legislation to enforce social distancing. If the public health advice is that we need to use powers to enforce a lockdown then we will do that in conjunction with the PSNI.”

Ms O’Neill said: “This is not a holiday. This is an emergency. People shouldn’t leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“We will take emergency powers and that’ll be in place soon. That’ll make sure we can act where people aren’t acting.”

Education Minister Peter Weir said “limited education supervision” was provided to children of key workers on Monday.

The Department of Education estimated about 575 pre-school settings and schools were open but the “number of pupils attending is very small”.

The minister added “schools are only open as a last resort option for children of key workers who cannot make other arrangements”, and to let teachers implement remote learning.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has unveiled plans to help key workers get childcare in their own homes.

It said children of key workers can be “temporarily matched with one daycare worker from the setting that they currently attend”.

It will prioritise babies and toddlers, with no more than six children cared for at a time.

For more, the government directs people to this site: www.familysupportni.gov.uk/Section/Childcare/138

Health authorities have declared the Mater Hospital in north Belfast the city’s official “Covid-19 hospital”.

It is shut to walk-in admissions from 8am on Tuesday, and all respiratory ambulance admissions will be taken there. All other ambulance categories will be diverted to the Royal Victoria Hospital, west Belfast.

It is understood the Mater was chosen so as not to disrupt any acute care, which is a focus of the Royal, or cancer care, for which the City Hospital is a hub.