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Governments north and south sign memorandum of understanding to boost Covid-19 cooperation

Both jurisdictions will aim to adopt “similar approaches” where appropriate, Minister Simon Harris said.

Arlene Foster and Leo Varadkar at a meeting to discuss the coronavirus crisis last month.
Arlene Foster and Leo Varadkar at a meeting to discuss the coronavirus crisis last month.
Image: Aine McMahon/PA Images

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT and the devolved government in Northern Ireland has agreed a memorandum of understanding with the goal to “underpin and strengthen north-south cooperation on the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

Signed by both chief medical officers – Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Michael McBride – it sets out how there will be cooperation in areas such as modelling, the common messages given to the public, behavioural change and research.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said this memorandum will “ensure timely and responsive communications and decisions in a fast-moving environment” and that both administrations “will seek to adopt similar approaches” where appropriate.

Last month, there was over a week where the decision had been taken to close schools in the Republic of Ireland based on the medical and scientific advice coming from Dublin, while they remained open in Northern Ireland based on the advice from there and from London.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led a delegation from the government to Armagh last month for talks on the Covid-19 response with First Minister Arlene Foster. 

This move, however, signals closer cooperation between both north and south under a formalised agreement.

In the area of modelling, for example, they will work together to predict the likely impact of Covid-19 and to enable evidence-based decisions on how best to respond to the outbreak on the island of Ireland. 

They will also share information and discuss appropriate social distancing measures being considered, including travel restrictions. 

“The participants will work together in appropriate areas that may arise, such as procurement, to support the response to Covid-19, where it is of mutual benefit to do so,” it said.

A weekly teleconference with the offices of chief medical officers will also be held.

Harris’ counterpart in the north, Robin Swann, said: “We face a common challenge, a challenge that  will test us as never before. We will continue to do everything possible to work together for the best possible outcome.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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