Closing eateries will prevent deaths, Arlene Foster says

Halting social life in Northern Ireland will help prevent deaths, First Minister Arlene Foster said.

Pubs, cafes, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres were ordered to close on Friday evening by the Prime Minister in a measure without parallel in the UK.

The Government is to pay 80% of wages for employees who are not working due to Covid-19 restrictions, up to £2,500 a month.

The DUP leader told the BBC Radio Ulster Inside Politics programme: “This is a way of dealing with this disease and bringing down those numbers of deaths.

“This is for the community’s protection, it is for our elderly and we are asking everyone to come together to embrace the giant spirit and the spirit of Northern Ireland.”

A total of nine new cases of Covid-19 were revealed on Friday in Northern Ireland, the overall tally is 86.

Mrs Foster said social distancing and good hand hygiene was crucial.

She backed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pledge on wages.

She said: “It is a huge package, it is a package that is unprecedented for the people of the UK.”

Publicans in Northern Ireland said the announcements delivered certainty on closures.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “We now need to make sure that this emergency financial measure gets to our people as quickly as possible.

“This is a comprehensive package on face value, and we hope that this has not come too late for many in our sector.

“The greater certainty that employers and employees alike have on the salary commitment through the wage protection scheme will reduce anxiety and the fear that people may not have been paid.

“This will save and retain jobs and businesses alike.”

Owen Reidy, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said it was timely.

He said: “This is an unprecedented action for an unprecedented crisis and will crucially maintain the employment contract of workers and ensure that when this crisis in over they remain employed.”

He added: “We would also ask that business that can afford to do so should pay the remaining 20% of pay for as many workers as possible, as this is crucial to keep society and the economy going.”

Three days’ pay taken from striking health service workers in Northern Ireland will be reinstated, Stormont’s Deputy First Minister said earlier.

Nurses left hospital bedsides in a campaign for pay parity with other parts of the UK and what unions said were safer staffing levels.

They have been on the front line of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak, which is beginning to spread rapidly across the region.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said staff walked out in January in a bid to create a health service able to respond to a crisis like the coronavirus.

She added: “We hope that sends out a clear message in terms of our recognition of those workers who work on our behalf.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster said the abuse of shopworkers was “disgusting”.

She praised frontline healthcare workers, teachers stepping forward to look after the children of key workers, home bakeries, restaurants and shop workers.

“I was told today in one of my local chemist shops that workers were being abused because they didn’t have hand sanitisers available,” she said.

“Now I have to say these abusers need to be called out, the behaviour is disgusting. I will not stand for it and I will call out selfishness and abusive behaviour whenever I see it.”

Conflicting messages about school closures next week have angered some parents.

Education minister Peter Weir said all schools should be prepared to cater for key workers’ children from Monday.

Closures were previously announced across the UK.

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