NI needs ‘proportionate response’ to Covid transmission - Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster has insisted the response to rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland must be “proportionate”, amid reports a lockdown of up to six weeks has been recommended.

On Monday, the latest Department of Health figures reported three more related deaths and a further 877 new cases.

It is understood Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young have advised introducing a lockdown within days and for four to six weeks.

It is further understood they have urged closing schools for a period within that lockdown, though not necessarily throughout its entirety.

They are said to have identified the measures as providing the best chance of Northern Ireland reaching Christmas without the need for a further lockdown.

On Monday evening, the First Minister told UTV the NI Executive would listen to all the evidence with regards next steps.

“Of course, we will listen to our medical advisors,” Mrs Foster said.

“We will, of course, then also have to do a risk analysis as to the damage to other sectors in society, especially economic damage.

“So it’s about taking a proportionate response, a balanced response, so that we do have an economy when we get a vaccine to deal with this dreadful virus.”

Mrs Foster has insisted that it is not about putting wealth before health, noting the potential knock-on effects if people lose their livelihoods.

“Poverty kills as well as Covid and I think that’s a very important point to make,” she added.

The First Minister further told UTV that she is in agreement with Education Minister Peter Weir in not being in favour of closing schools.

Earlier on Monday, the First and deputy First Ministers joined leaders of the devolved nations in speaking to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the Covid-19 situation.

Michelle O'Neill - who is self-isolating, but has tested negative for Covid-19 - said she flagged the need for extra financial support for Northern Ireland during the Cobra call.

"Raised the need for additional finances with the British Government this morning," she tweeted.

"Our Covid situation requires decisive action to stop the spread and therefore we need the finances to support workers, families and business in these challenging times."

Transmission of coronavirus has been rising significantly in Northern Ireland, with Derry and Strabane Council recording one of the highest infection rates in the UK.

Speaking in the Assembly earlier, Health Minister Robin Swann said he had submitted a paper setting out Dr McBride and Prof Young's advice on further restrictions to the First and deputy First Ministers on Sunday night.

"That paper recommends decisive action be urgently taken to save lives, prevent the health service being overwhelmed and protect non-Covid services to the greatest extent possible," he said.

Mr Swann added that that the advice was from the "health perspective", and that it was "ultimately for the Executive to consider all factors together".