Coronavirus: Arlene Foster calls for collaboration on Covid-19 restrictions

Coronavirus: Arlene Foster calls for collaboration on Covid-19 restrictions

The Stormont Executive must handle decisions on Covid-19 restrictions differently than it did last week, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

Ministers faced criticism for delaying the decision, holding four days of talks before reaching a compromise.

The executive is due to meet on Thursday, for the first time since the disagreements broke out last week.

Mrs Foster said it was “time for the executive to step back” and collaborate together.

Her party came under pressure for using a cross-community mechanism to block two proposals from Health Minister Robin Swann to extend the restrictions – and the party has not ruled out deploying it again.

Mr Swann has said he believes more restrictions may be required before Christmas to curb the spread of the virus.

Close-contact services, cafes and coffee shops can reopen this Friday but restrictions on pubs, restaurants and hotels are due to expire at midnight next Thursday.

Mrs Foster said initial discussions had taken place on Tuesday with other executive ministers about trying to reach a decision earlier this time.

“We’re all adults – we recognise last week was not good for the executive,” she told BBC News NI.

“I hope we will have a press conference tomorrow… it is our desire to communicate with the public as much as we can.

“It’s about preparing the ground this week – we cannot leave it to the way it happened last week, we have to step forward this week.”

She repeated her assertion that she wants to find a “balanced and proportionate approach” to the restrictions.

Mrs Foster added that she would need to see the detail from the health minister and assess it with other data before making a decision.

“I would love to give certainty to everybody in Northern Ireland but I have to hear what the health minister has to say in relation to all of that,” said the first minister.

“People need to know what is happening and whatever the decision is I think it is incumbent upon us to communicate that as quickly as we can.”

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Downing Street would talk to the Stormont Executive about the government’s plans to roll out more mass testing programmes across the UK.

He made the remark in response to DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during prime minister’s questions.

Sir Jeffrey said Northern Ireland should be considered for the scheme, which is already operating in Liverpool, in light of its population size.

The prime minister said he recognised that mass testing was a “powerful weapon” in the fight against Covid-19 and that talks with the executive would take place.

It is understood that the health minister met the first and deputy first ministers on Tuesday to discuss the latest modelling data, and also raised the issue of mass testing.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she had spoken to the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson about the benefits of mass testing.

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