Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: No date for schools to reopen, says Peter Weir

Most classrooms have been empty for seven weeks

Education minister Peter Weir has said there is no planned date for schools to reopen "for normal business".

Speaking at today's daily update on the executive's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said decisions would be driven by the circumstances and guided by the best health and scientific advice.

He added it would be a phased return with remote learning continuing.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy told the daily news conference an extra £6.75 million had been found for hospice care which is struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

"Our hospices are there for people and their families when they need it most," he said.

The money will be divided between Hospice, Marie Curie and other organisations.

Mr Murphy added: "This support package for them will help with challenges from loss of donations and retail outlets."

The ministers were speaking after it was confirmed earlier that there had been a further 14 deaths recorded in the north.

Addressing the lockdown, Mr Murphy said the decision on lifting restrictions would not be governed by meeting a certain date.

"The consequences of getting this wrong could have severe implications for people's lives," he said.

He added: "More important is getting this right and getting the measures correct.

"I would be more concerned about getting it done correctly rather than rushing to an early decision to meet a deadline."

Mr Weir said: "This is probably the most crucial decision that this Executive will ever make so it is critical that all the details are got right.

"We will work together collectively and intensively to reach a successful conclusion on this."

Conor Murphy said the furlough job retention scheme had been hugely important in supporting employees.

"I am worried that the ending of this in June is too soon.

"Certain sectors are already starting to return to work ... some sectors are going to continue to suffer from an inability to work even if restrictions are lifted."

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