Coronavirus: No major relaxation of lockdown, says O’Neill

Michelle O'Neill Image copyright Press Association Image caption Michelle O’Neill warns relaxation of lockdown measures will be “gradual and slow”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has warned people not to expect major change when lockdown rules are reviewed next week.

Ms O’Neill said any changes to Covid-19 restrictions would be “gradual and slow”.

She said she hoped that there could be a joined-up executive agreement “we can stand over because the science tells us that we can stand over it”.

Ms O’Neill was speaking on BBC Northern Ireland’s The View on Thursday evening.

She made the comments after Environment Minister Edwin Poots suggested that churches should be able to open if they could practise social distancing.

He said people had got the message on the continued need for social distancing, and NI had “put coronavirus into reverse”.

If off-licences could be trusted to stay open, churches could too, he said.

Ms O’Neill told The View she believed Mr Poots’s comments were “unhelpful”.

Stressing there would be no “quick fix”, she said: “We’re going to have to work our way through it as best as we can.”

Image caption Edwin Poots said there should be a graduated response to lifting lockdown restrictions
‘Life after lockdown’

Earlier, Health Minister Robin Swann said Northern Ireland had not yet reached the point where restrictions could be lifted.

He said the executive needed to make sure it does not send out “wrong signals” about the lockdown.

Nine new Covid-related deaths were announced by Stormont’s Department of Health on Thursday, bringing its total to 347. That toll relates mainly to hospital fatalities and is likely to rise when community deaths are taken into account.

Across the UK, 26,711 have now died – an increase of 674 from Wednesday, while another 43 deaths were confirmed in the Republic of Ireland bringing the total there to 1,232. However both countries used different counting methods.

Speaking at the daily Stormont press conference, Mr Swann warned that social distancing could be in place in Northern Ireland for “months or even years”.

“There is pressure on those of us in leadership to chart a way forward, to reassure people there will be a life after lockdown.

“But we also need to make sure we don’t send out the wrong signals, and give the impression restrictions will be eased any time soon.”

In other developments on Thursday:

NI’s Chief Scientific Adviser,

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