Twelfth of July parades cancelled due to coronavirus
Twelfth of July parades have been cancelled due to coronavirus, the Orange Order has announced.
Grand Master Edward Stevenson said the decision had been taken "in the face of the growing crisis" and that gathering hundreds of thousands of Orangemen plus bands and spectators "would not be responsible".
He said the order had consulted the Grand Masters of England and Scotland, local County Masters and senior officers.
"It is with regret that I must cancel the 2020 Boyne anniversary parades. In the face of the growing crisis surrounding coronavirus it is in the best interests of our members, their families and the wider community that this decision has been made," he said.
"In the current circumstances, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of Orangemen and women, together with their accompanying bands and spectators, would not be responsible.
"I appreciate that our culture and traditions are very much a way of life for the Orange family, however in light of the current situation, we must prioritise the safety of not only our members, but of the entire community."
Parades had been due to take place at 17 venues across Northern Ireland and also in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, on July 12.
Demonstrations were not held for a time during the First and Second World Wars or during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.
The Orange Order said that, during those times, alternative ways to mark the occasion were found like flying flags and creating displays of Orange lilies.
Mr Stevenson added: "For some, the coming days will be extremely painful.
"We must bear in mind that for many people there will be no return of normal life. They will have lost loved ones.
"The Orange family has already lost members to this terrible virus whilst others are currently in hospital."
DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said the decision represented a responsible step.
"By taking such steps now and if everyone adheres to the advice then we can reduce the pressures on our NHS, save lives and ultimately ensure we emerge as strongly as possible from this pandemic.
"There will be a great deal to celebrate when we do finally have the opportunity to meet again."
UUP leader Steve Aiken said it was "a sensible and welcome decision from the Orange Order".
The Executive announced this afternoon that a further seven people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll in Northern Ireland to 70. The coronavirus death toll in the Republic of Ireland has risen to 174, with 16 deaths reported
in the last 24 hours, the National Public Health emergency team has said.