Coronavirus: NI and Irish leaders to meet over cross-border plans

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill

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Robin Swann, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill will meet their counterparts in the Dáil on Saturday

The first and deputy first ministers will meet leaders from the Irish government, including the taoiseach (prime minister), later to discuss a plan for responding to coronavirus on an all-island basis.

NI’s first community transmission cases were confirmed on Friday.

Three of nine new cases were contracted in this way. The total is now 29.

There have been 90 confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland.

Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tanaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) Simon Coveney and Irish Health Minister Simon Harris at the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh.

The council was established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland.

They are expected to discuss cross-border cooperation on measures to prevent the spread of the virus across the island of Ireland.

On Friday, the first and deputy first minister disagreed over whether schools, colleges and universities should close because of the outbreak.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said they should shut immediately, in line with measures announced in the Republic of Ireland on Thursday.

Her statement came a day after she, along with Mrs Foster, said the executive did not believe the situation had reached the stage where Northern Ireland’s schools needed to close.

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Nine new Covid-19 cases announced on Friday brought Northern Ireland’s total to 29

Archibishop Eamon Martin, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has written to Northern Ireland’s education minister to ask him to consider closing all schools.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has said that non-urgent health services in Northern Ireland are to be reduced in order to care for coronavirus patients.

Affected services that are to be scaled back include non-urgent outpatient appointments, day cases, inpatient and diagnostic work.

The cancellations and postponements will be phased in over the coming days and weeks.

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Health Minister Robin Swann said coronavirus was “the biggest public health challenge for at least a generation”

Reacting to the first cases of community transmission in Northern Ireland, Mrs Foster said it was “disappointing but not surprising, because there has been community transfer in the Republic of Ireland and other parts of the UK for quite some time”.

“We know that this is going to spread across Northern Ireland and there will be many, many people who will be victims of Covid-19,” she added.

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