Coronavirus lockdown exit will be step-by-step process – NI’s First Minister

Emerging from the coronavirus lockdown will be a step-by-step process, Arlene Foster has said.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister announced on Wednesday that the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 will remain in place for at least another three weeks, and has added that social distancing could be with us for months or years.

Meanwhile, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced new proposals to allow people to be with relatives who are gravely ill with coronavirus before they die, Mrs Foster also said she “very much hopes” similar measures can be put in place in Northern Ireland.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus
Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright)

She said the Health Minister Robin Swann is currently considering it.

The First Minister said the curve of the infection rate has flattened thanks to compliance with social distancing rules, adding that plans for recovery are being made but warned it will not start with a “total re-opening”.

“The lockdown will continue for another three weeks but I think what people want to see us doing now is to plan for recovery and that of course is the next stage in the process,” she told the BBC.

“It’ll not just be a total reopening again because that would be wrong, because what we want to do is to ensure that we minimise and continue to mitigate the coronavirus.

“We have been advised by our chief medical officer that there is the very strong probability of a second surge and therefore we want to make sure we contain that in the way we have been able to contain what is with us at present.”

Peter Morrison
A woman runs past a mental health mural on the Falls road in west Belfast” width=”4343″ height=”3039″ data-title=”Coronavirus – Tue Apr 14, 2020″ data-copyright-holder=”PA Wire” data-copyright-notice=”PA Wire/PA Images” data-credit=”Peter Morrison” data-usage-terms=”” /> A woman runs past a mental health mural on the Falls road in west Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

Asked how long a step-by-step recovery process could take, Mrs Foster said the executive will be “led by the science”.

“It is a process, I know it’s very frustrating for people but I think what the Northern Ireland public need to hear this morning is we are planning for recovery because we know this lockdown has an impact,” she said.

“It has a very positive impact in terms of the coronavirus but it also has a negative impact in terms of mental health of our population, the fact that people are feeling isolated but also the economic impact and I think that is a very key element because we have been told by the office of budget responsibility that every month that we are in lockdown 3% of GDP is being wiped off the balance sheet, and we do of course worry for our companies coming out of this lockdown.”

She added: “social distancing will be with us for a long time” and said we will be dealing with the ramifications of Covid-19 from a health and economic point of view for many months and possibly years to come.

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