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Sam Boal/
Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster: Developing 'herd immunity' to Covid-19 not a policy adopted by Stormont Executive

The DUP leader said that the North took its own decision to close schools from next week.

DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has said that tackling the outbreak of Covid-19 in the North through ‘herd immunity’ was not a policy adopted by the Stormont Executive. 

The UK was criticised recently for adopting a different approach to tackle the coronavirus, opting not to shut schools or ban mass gatherings – a move out of step with the rest of Europe.

It initially adopted a dual approach, staggering demand on the health service by asking people with Covid-19 to stay at home to recover, and by developing ‘herd immunity’ in the British population by letting the virus run its ‘natural course’ of infecting people.

However, this approach has changed in recent days with announcements of school closures across the UK, including in the North from next Monday.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio One this morning, the North’s First Minister clarified that the decision to close schools yesterday was not directed by Westminster.

“We were taking our medical advice from our own chief medical officer in Belfast, and he felt that yesterday the time was right,” Foster said.

She also explained that a policy to develop ‘herd immunity’ among the population of the North was not one adopted by the Stormont Executive.

“I think herd immunity had been talked about by some of the scientists, in terms of some of our younger people and those who are fit and well, but it certainly was not the policy of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“Our policy update has always been to try and delay the onset of the invisible enemy that has been visited upon the world, to try and delay that but also to try and minimise the number of deaths, which would happen.

“Those twin aims are still our policy and that’s what we shall continue to try and do.”

Asked whether an all-island approach to the health crisis should be taken, Foster pointed to the co-ordination between both executives when the first case of Covid-19 on the island, where an individual in the North travelled through Dublin Airport before their diagnosis was confirmed.

She said both chief medical officers would continue to co-operate and share information to minimise the impact of the disease. 

“It’s not an orange and green issue and I regret that some people have tried to make it into that,” she said.

“Certainly, it’s a virus that is coming right across the world, and therefore we have to deal with joined up a way as we possibly can, taking all of the information that we have from right across the world.”

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