Northern Ireland’s schools and colleges will not close at this stage, the first and deputy first ministers have said.
Earlier the Republic of Ireland’s government said it would shut educational institutions and ban mass gatherings.
But on Thursday evening, following an emergency summit, First Minister Arlene Foster said NI would follow the scientific advice given to the assembly.
Boris Johnson also announced new steps.
Another two cases of the virus were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Thursday, bringing the total to 20.
Both the new cases are adults. One involved recent travel from Italy and the other can be traced to a previously reported case in the UK.
The meeting involved executive ministers including Mrs Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, the head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling and representatives of the emergency services.
Before the meeting the first and deputy first ministers dialled into a Cobra meeting with the prime minister and top UK health officials.
Ms O’Neill said: “We have a situation here in the north where we are not at the stage yet where that [closing schools] is a decision we want to take now.”
She added: “We are guided by the science and the medical evidence that we have suggests that this is not the right decision at this time.”
Ms O’Neill later said that the situation as regards closing schools and public gatherings was under “daily review”.
Ms O’Neill said members of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish government would hold a North South Ministerial Council meeting on Saturday.
Education Minister Peter Weir, who also attended the summit, said closing schools could be “counter-productive” for public health.
Mrs Foster said the issues would be reviewed next week.
In other developments:
- The number of cases across the UK has risen to 596, but the government’s chief scientific adviser says up to 10,000 people may be infected
- There’s also been another 27 cases in the Republic of Ireland – bringing the total there to 70
- NI’s Department of Health has warned it may have to place some restrictions on visitors to hospitals and care homes
- A number of women in Northern Ireland have had fertility treatment postponed
- The St Patrick’s Day community parade in Armagh has been cancelled
- Sporting fixtures are now being widely affected, with the GAA and the IRFU suspending all games across Ireland
- Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off games could also be postponed
Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said it was “the worst public health crisis for a generation”.
Like Mr Weir, he said closing schools could do more harm than good.
He added that the government was considering calling for the suspension of major public events such as sporting fixtures – but this would be a measure primarily to protect public services.
He said even if the peak of the disease is delayed by a “few weeks” the NHS would be in a stronger position to handle it.
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