Coronavirus will close Northern Ireland’s schools, says Foster

Northern Ireland’s schools will close as a result of coronavirus, the First Minister has said.

Arlene Foster said the region is 14 weeks away from the peak in the infection’s spread as she warned many people may already have it but not realise.

A total of 20 cases of Covid-19 have been detected so far.

The DUP leader told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “There will come a point where we will have to close schools, there will come a point where we will have to say people should social distance themselves from other people, they should stay in their own homes.

“The timing of all of these things is where the science comes in and the modelling which has been done and which continues to be done by those scientists will inform the decision that we have to take, both at UK level and indeed at Northern Ireland level as well.”

On Thursday, Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill acknowledged the closure of schools in the Irish Republic had left parents north of the border with many questions.

The First Minister, who expressed disappointment the Irish Government had not given Stormont prior notification of its move, insisted the action at this stage would be “counterproductive”.

She warned it could take healthcare workers away from hospitals and expose grandparents looking after children at home to increased risk from the potentially deadly virus.

In Ireland, schools, colleges, childcare facilities, museums and other tourist attractions have been closed in a major lockdown aimed at thwarting the virus’ spread and guided by European and scientific experts.

Northern Ireland’s open land border with the Republic means children attending classes just a few miles away will be ordered to stay at home.

Mrs Foster has said the infection is more advanced in Ireland, with community transfer of the virus between patients with no links to overseas travel.

Chief medical officers in Northern Ireland and England, and the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), all advised against closing schools.

Stormont’s leaders are due to meet Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Health Minister Simon Harris on Saturday.