Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill clarifies comments on north's 'higher' Covid cases

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said the north's lockdown exit plan will "not driven by what is happening in England, Scotland and Wales"
Seanín Graham

MICHELLE O'Neill has moved to clarify comments about Northern Ireland having "much higher" coronavirus cases than Britain.

The Deputy First Minister also insisted the north's exit from lockdown will "not driven by what is happening in England, Scotland and Wales".

In an interview with BBC's Good Morning Ulster yesterday, the Sinn Féin northern leader defended Stormont's exit strategy amid criticism of a lack of clarity around re-opening the economy.

Unlike England and the Republic, the executive's recovery document does not specify dates but says it will be guided by health service data.

Ms O'Neill told the BBC that while the rate of Covid infection has dropped, the number of hospital cases are still high, adding: "When you compare what's happening in England, Scotland and Wales our cases are much, much higher even though we are on a downward trajectory and that's a positive thing."

While the north had the worst infection rates last month, Chief Medical Officer Dr McBride yesterday confirmed it now has a lower number of cases per 100,000 people than England and the Republic, although still higher than Wales and Scotland.

Co Derry solicitor Stephen Atherton, who is representing an eight-year-old schoolboy in a legal challenge to Stormont's ban on outdoor sports for children, queried where Ms O'Neill obtained her data.

"To say that I am deeply concerned at this misleading information, information which has clearly been used as a basis for the so called 'roadmap' out of lockdown, would be a massive understatement," he said.

In response, Ms O'Neill told The Irish News there are "numerous indicators" used both here and in Britain.

"While we have made good progress in suppressing transmission rates, the numbers of cases are still too high and we need to keep working to get rates as low as possible to allow us to slowly and gradually ease out of the current restrictions," she said.

"Decisions are taken here based on the prevailing public health situation and the wellbeing of our people and communities.

"We are guided by the medical and scientific evidence and advice on the course of the epidemic and wider impacts in a local context. We are not driven by what is happening in England, Scotland and Wales."

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