Northern Ireland news

Leading doctor warns north must 'harmonise' with south to win coronavirus battle

Professor Gabriel Scally. Picture by Mark Marlow
Seanín Graham

THE north's political leaders must depart from the British government's coronavirus strategy and urgently harmonise with the Republic, a leading doctor has said.

Professor Gabriel Scally claimed "divergent approaches" within Ireland could lead to more deaths per head of the population north of the border.

The Belfast-born president of the Royal Society of Medicine's epidemiology and public health section warns of the dangers in a special platform piece.

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There has been apparent division within the Stormont executive over its coronavirus response, from the question of school closures to levels of testing and which businesses should close down.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said yesterday it was not a case of "orange versus green", although a poll for LucidTalk has found that nationalists are almost twice as likely as unionists to believe government action has been "too slow".

First Minister Arlene Foster said: "Whatever differences we may have about emphasis, or the ways of doing things, or who we listen to, it is important that we are able and free to have those discussions at the executive and then come forward with a common strategy and that is what we have done today."

A meeting will take place today between ministers from either side of the border on the fight against Covid-19.

Prof Scally called for Stormont to follow the south's lead on testing.

The Irish government has set up a network of community test centres to identify people with the virus and also isolate those in contact with them, while testing in the north is largely restricted to hospital patients and key healthcare workers.

Prof Scally said different approaches are "just not compatible with achieving the level of control needed to win the battle".

In a plea to both governments, he said "now is not the time to be captives of our histories".

"The political leaders in the north need, on this specific issue of coronavirus, to decouple themselves from the Whitehall approach.

"They and their counterparts in the south must, as equals, set about, with every possible urgency, harmonizing their strategies and actions. The situation requires boldness of thought and deed."

The Department of Health last night said Northern Ireland is part of an initiative involving private partners to boost testing for frontline NHS staff and the minister has established an expert group to lead on the expansion of testing.

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