Late night discussions for Executive on Covid-19 response

Executive ministers have held late-night talks at Stormont over new measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

The meeting got underway at 9.30pm on Tuesday and was temporarily adjourned before resuming shortly after 11pm.

MLAs had been on notice for a possible special sitting of the Assembly to debate any restrictions agreed by ministers.

Northern Ireland has seen a rising number of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.

A paper from Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that infection rates will continue rising if both schools and the hospitality sector remain open.

It is understood the adjournment came after SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon asked for time to study the recommendations.

Ministers have been considering introducing new restrictions over a four-week period, however there's been some division over the way forward.

It is understood the DUP and Sinn Fein, have been at odds on how long schools should close during any period of lockdown.

A compromise position may see schools close for a fortnight - a period that would include the Halloween mid-term break.

Speaking in the Assembly earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster said: "Some people have said it is about health versus wealth, I think that is a completely false analysis.

“Poverty kills and unemployment kills as well.

"Therefore it is a balancing act between making sure that we deal with Covid-19 but that we also try and protect our economy, protect our society as we know it and indeed family life as we know it.

"These are huge decisions, none of them are easy."

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser have already recommended a country-wide lockdown lasting four to six weeks.

However business leaders from Hospitality Ulster, Manufacturing NI and Retail NI have warned of the potential of widespread job losses.

A joint statement said: “The current support offer for businesses from Westminster and Stormont doesn’t come close to what is needed to protect jobs; those who are required to self-isolate; and support businesses in the event of a second lockdown.

“The risk is that it will cause economic devastation, resulting in tens of thousands of job losses which will have a huge impact on communities.”