Northern Ireland news

Edwin Poots accused of bid to sectarianise coronavirus crisis

Edwin Poots also expressed “grave reservations” about the latest restrictions imposed by the executive, despite the four-week ‘circuit-breaker’ having been agreed by all parties.ry. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham, Health Correspondent

EDWIN Poots was last night accused of trying to sectarianise the Covid crisis after claiming the “difference between nationalist areas and unionist areas is around six to one”.

The DUP agriculture minister claimed “a lot of the problems started after the Bobby Storey funeral... and people in that community saw the breaking of the rules”.

Mr Poots also expressed “grave reservations” about the latest restrictions imposed by the executive, despite the four-week ‘circuit-breaker’ having been agreed by all parties.

Last night Sinn Féin described his comments as “an absolute disgrace and entirely misleading”. It said its “focus is on working with the other executive parties, including the DUP, to tackle this emergency situation”.

“That should be Edwin Poots’s focus instead of trying to politicise and sectarianise the issue,” the party said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster to “rein him in immediately before he does any further damage to the public health messaging”, while UUP leader Steven Aiken said Mr Poots should “consider his position”.

The row came as a joint message was issued by Stormont party leaders appealing for people to support new restrictions affecting schools, the hospitality industry and other sectors.

Mr Poots criticised some of the measures, saying he favoured localised restrictions and noting the disparity in infection rates across majority nationalist and unionist council areas – with Derry and Strabane being 10 times higher than Mid and East Antrim, while Lisburn/Castlereagh and North Down/Ards were “considerably lower” than Newry, Down and Mourne.

While Derry and Strabane has the highest Covid rate in the UK, the next worst is the mixed Belfast council area.

Mid and East Antrim has had the lowest rates recently but the Ballymena area was previously subject to restrictions due to concern about cases.

Read more: Calls for Edwin Poots to consider position after attack on new lockdown restrictions

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