Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill tell firms to 'get their act together'

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the Northern Ireland Executive's daily press update on the response to the Covid-19 crisis in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

ARLENE Foster and Michelle O'Neill have warned firms to "get their act together" on stopping the spread of coronavirus.

The first and deputy first ministers said businesses will face enforcement action if they carry on as normal during the health crisis.

They called on non-essential employers to close – but if they had to remain open, to take steps to ensure staff safety, with employees kept at least two metres apart.

It came as staff at poultry giant Moy Park walked out of its Portadown plant due to concerns about the level of social distancing measures in place.

Some employees also walked off an ABP meat processing site in Lurgan.

The north's coronavirus death toll has reached seven – including three deaths recorded since Tuesday.

Another 37 new cases in Northern Ireland were also confirmed yesterday by the Public Health Agency, bringing the total to 209.

Speaking at Stormont's daily Covid-19 press conference, Mrs Foster said those working in food production were extremely valued and urged their employers to look after them.

She added: "We need them to make sure that their employees are safe, not only safe but that they feel valued.

"We want them to continue to be able to provide food in this very difficult time."

The DUP leader said employers should ensure staff safety and if they don't "get their act together", they will face enforcement action.

Sinn Féin vice-president Ms O'Neill said she had seen vans full of men going to work.

"That is not acceptable, that is not safe so that needs to be stopped," she said.

Moy Park said the health and wellbeing of workers is its "most important consideration" and it has "new, robust measures in place to keep them safe".

Meanwhile, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said coronavirus testing will increase to more than 1,000 a day by next week, which would help give a better idea of the infection's spread.

"At this point in time, I suspect there are many thousands of individual cases in Northern Ireland," he said.

He reiterated the importance of social distancing and good hand hygiene.

Around 40,000 of the most vulnerable are to be written to by their GPs, urging them to be extra careful and stay at home.

Health minister Robin Swann predicted there would be many more deaths.

"That is the reality that is haunting us all during every waking hour, but we can reduce that death toll," he said.

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