Coronavirus total hits 62 in Northern Ireland

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Increasing numbers of coronavirus cases are being detected in Northern Ireland.

The latest total at 2pm on Tuesday was 62, including 10 new positive cases.

The total number of tests completed in Northern Ireland is 1,338.

The Department of Health has repeated advice to those with mild symptoms – a new persistent cough and/or fever – to stay at home and self-isolate.

“They will not require testing and will not therefore be included in testing totals,” a spokesman said.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said there will be an “upscaling” of communications to the public from the Stormont Executive about its response to Covid-19.

“Keeping communities across the North safe at this very concerning time is my priority and I want to reassure the public that my department is doing everything it can to ensure essential services and connections are maintained for those using and reliant on our infrastructure network,” she said.

Church of Ireland ministers in Northern Ireland have been told that all parish organisations and activities should stop “until further notice”.

This includes Sunday and mid-weekly church services.

Meetings that are deemed to be required or important to hold should follow current Public Health guidance, a Church of Ireland spokesman has said.

The guidance advises that those displaying Covid-19 symptoms such as a high temperature or a new continuous cough and those in vulnerable groups should not attend.

Virtual meetings by email are being encouraged.

The advice also includes enabling members to avail of worship resources, such as leaving church buildings open if appropriate for private prayer.

Clergy have also been advised to take steps to ensure that numbers attending funeral services and weddings are kept as low as possible.

The spokesman added that similar advice is being issued by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland following consultation between the three churches.

Queen’s University and Ulster University have announced they will close their campuses for teaching and social activities, with staff encouraged to work from home.

The North West 200 road races in May are the latest major event to be impacted by the outbreak.

They have been postponed on the advice and guidance of Government and public health officials, representatives of Causeway Coast and Glens Council, and the sport’s governing body, organisers said.

“Today’s decision has been based upon the advice and guidance received. Our paramount desire is to act responsibly and do all we can to protect everyone from the threat posed by the virus,” organisers said.

However, schools currently remain open in Northern Ireland.

The Catholic Principals’ Association has written to Education Minister Peter Weir urging him to close schools immediately, warning that many parents are already electing to keep their children at home.

On Monday, Mr Weir said schools would close in the future but would not be drawn any further.

Meanwhile, major museums in the region will close after Wednesday.

A spokesman for National Museums NI said the Ulster Museum, Folk Museum, Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park will close due to the “rapidly evolving situation regarding Covid-19”.

National Museums NI issued a statement saying: “We’ve made this decision in the interests of the health and wellbeing of our community.

“Whilst the museums are temporarily closed, we will continue to conduct as much as possible of our work remotely and will seek alternative ways to provide access to the collections that we hold.

“We look forward to announcing when we will be able to welcome visitors back to our museums and public spaces and we would like to thank the public for their support and patience.”

Belfast’s Lyric Theatre will close for the first time in its history, having stayed open throughout the Troubles.

Executive producer Jimmy Fay said the theatre was playing its part in helping slow the spread of Covid-19.

He said: “This is the first time in the Lyric’s history that we’ve been forced to close our doors; even during the very darkest days of the Troubles the Lyric remained open.

“The closure of theatres and other cultural venues will have a very real and devastating impact on the theatre industry and arts community as a whole.”

The Orange Order has also suspended activities.

Grand Master Edward Stevenson encouraged “able-bodied members” who are not at risk to volunteer for the government’s “wholehearted national effort” to “help and support each other”.

As part of the direction, the Museums of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House and Sloan’s House Loughgall will close from Tuesday.

On Monday night, Stormont ministers agreed to introduce a package of measures in an effort to delay the spread of the virus.

Rates relief for businesses, continuing free meals for needy pupils after schools close and steps to support the elderly are among the proposals.

Ministers have also agreed to special meetings of Stormont’s executive to discuss budget allocations in light of the pressure Covid-19 will exert on departments and to halt non-critical work and allocate resources to the wider rapid response effort.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These are unprecedented times and I am well aware of the real concern that exists across our community as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases increase.

“Further steps are being introduced to keep people safe. We know the burden that some of the necessary measures will have on families and individuals but it is important that they are followed and society pulls together to lessen the impacts of this disease.”

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister will chair a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Group (NI) on Wednesday to lead the response of the public sector, including blue light responders.

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