NI schools to close amid coronavirus outbreak

Northern Ireland’s schools will close after Friday amid concerns around the spread of coronavirus, the First and deputy First Ministers have announced.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill held a press conference on Wednesday evening to address the current, unprecedented situation.

Both leaders noted that while they were from very different political backgrounds, they were both mothers, daughters and sisters trying to do the right thing.

Announcing the school closures, expected to last beyond the natural end of the summer break, Mrs Foster said: “The societal and economic impact of this will be enormous.”

She added that medical advice was to delay such action as long as possible.

“Educating our children cannot cease,” the DUP leader added.

“And remote learning and home packs for self-study are already being explored.”

Ms O’Neill added: “This virus has changed everything, and it cannot be business as usual.

“This is already impacting our economy, businesses, public services, jobs and people’s livelihoods.

“It’s a very, very difficult time and we know that you need our full support and you need resources.”

Earlier, a High Court challenge to the schools remaining open was put on hold after a judge was told the closures were imminent.

The mother of a seven-year-old pupil from Co Armagh with severe asthma brought the proceedings.

However, her barrister said he was “reluctant to waste valuable court time with something that appears imminent”.

Education Minister Peter Weir had previously insisted the closures would happen when the time was right, with the move to be based on expert clinical advice about the outbreak.

The announcement on Wednesday evening comes after six new coronavirus cases were identified in Northern Ireland, taking the total to 68.

Across the UK, 2,626 cases have been recorded - an increase of 676 from Tuesday.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know