DUP leader Arlene Foster has insisted her party has not lost confidence in Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer following the row over when children should return to school.
ducation Minister Peter Weir said he intended to press Dr Michael McBride on why schools here cannot fully reopen at the same pace as other jurisdictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced a lockdown exit plan, which will see schoolchildren in England return on March 8.
In Northern Ireland, only children in preschool, nursery and primaries one to three will return to school on that date.
From March 1 in the Republic of Ireland, junior classes and senior students in sixth year will return to school, along with full attendance in all special schools.
Speaking at Thursday’s Covid-19 press conference, Mrs Foster said Dr McBride has both her and her party’s “full confidence” despite the debate around schools.
“People are people confusing the roles of the different parts of this jigsaw puzzle,” she stated.
“As politicians, we are elected to bring the voice of our constituents – the people that elect us – to make decisions based on evidence, to make decisions based on what is the right way forward and to look at the balance of harm. And therefore, it is up to us to take the decision.
“If Michael McBride was here, he would say ‘I don’t decide, I advise’ and that’s absolutely the case.
“I have full confidence in our Chief Medical Officer. He has worked tirelessly, as indeed has the Chief Scientific Advisor and his Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor to bring us impartial advice.
“That’s the key isn’t it? Impartial advice. We as politicians have to decide on the best way forward.
“Absolutely Michael retains and will have my full confidence and that of my party.”
Mrs Foster added that certain Tweets “should be typed out and then deleted” when asked about DUP MP Sammy Wilson comparing Health Minister Robin Swann to a poodle.
“I know people are frustrated, I know people are angry and it’s certainly not language I would have used,” she said
“But I think there is a genuine desire to have a debate about the need to get young people back to school and that’s a debate we had today.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, stated: “All Executive Ministers have a very difficult job in charting out way through the pandemic, not least the Health Minister who has a very difficult job.
“I think Sammy Wilson’s comments were disgraceful and I would totally dissociate myself away from that.
“This has been a time where there have been threats made towards public representatives, there’s been threats towards journalists reporting on different incidents.
“That’s not acceptable and I think that needs to be called out.”
It comes after the Department of Health reported five new deaths linked to coronavirus in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours.
This brings the total deaths in Northern Ireland to 2,048 as of 10am on Thursday.
A further 281 positive cases of the virus have been reported, meaning there have been 111,932 positive cases confirmed in Northern Ireland since the start of the pandemic.
This includes 1,834 positive cases in the last seven days which shows a decrease of 240 compared to the previous week.
In Northern Ireland hospitals there are now 341 Covid-19 patients, including 341 Covid inpatients and 44 patients in intensive care. Hospital occupancy is at 97%
A total of 74 patients are on ventilators, including 32 with Covid-19.
There 28 active outbreaks of the virus in Northern Ireland care homes.