Children of healthcare workers in Northern Ireland ‘will be looked after’

The children of healthcare workers will be looked after when schools close, Northern Ireland’s Education Minister has said.

First Minister Arlene Foster announced on Wednesday evening that schools across the region will be closed from Monday in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.

She said the closures were “unplanned and long-term”.

Peter Weir revealed on Thursday morning that a limited number of schools will be open from Monday for the children of healthcare workers.

Speaking on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show, Mr Weir said the schools would have a skeleton staff.

“I’ll be writing out today to schools to clarify all the issues arising from last night’s announcement, but the aim would be to have a skeleton staff, initially on the basis of healthcare workers that want to place their children back in the school,” he said.

“There would then be a combination of childcare and supervised learning because all the schools have been preparing packs, online resources for that.

“That is an immensely logistical problem in a very short space of time but that would kick in on Monday.”

Some schools will remain open with a skeleton staff from Monday for the children of healthcare workers
Some schools will remain open with a skeleton staff from Monday for the children of healthcare workers

Mr Weir said after next week the scheme will be expanded to the children of other key staff, adding that work is under way to establish a comprehensive list of key workers.

The minister also said that education will continue despite the likelihood that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

“While we said that pupils will not be in (schools), teachers will continue to work, largely through schools, some because of self-isolation from home,” he told the Nolan Show.

“Education will continue to be delivered, they will be teaching through online resources, they’ll be teaching through packs.

“The intention while we’re not in normal times, not in normal circumstances, will everything be done as perfectly as possible? No, but the aim is throughout this process for teaching to continue and teaching to continue up to the end of the academic year on that basis.”

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Meanwhile, Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has announced that driving tests in the region will be suspended for three months.

The suspension will run until Monday June 22 2020, but this will be kept under review.

“I understand that this will cause inconvenience to customers and businesses, but it is the right step to take given the public health advice concerning social distancing and given the personal nature of the driver testing service,” Ms Mallon said.

Driving tests suspended for three months to protect DVA customers and staff from COVID-19

— Dept Infrastructure (@deptinfra) March 19, 2020

“Driving examiners are in close proximity to members of the public, in a confined space, for up to 40 minutes on each driving test. I know this is a time of great uncertainty for people and I want to assure affected staff that they will continue to be paid a salary. We will also continue to engage with the local sector and keep them informed as the situation evolves.”

Motorists with a driving test scheduled during this period will have the test rescheduled or may apply for a refund.