Second Covid-19 death confirmed as Trump extends travel ban to UK and Ireland

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By Aine McMahon, PA

A male patient with underlying health issues has become the second Covid-19 death in the Republic as 39 new cases have been confirmed bringing the total number of cases to 129.

There were five new positive cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Northern Ireland on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 34 and the total on the island to 163.

It comes as US President Donald Trump announced his coronavirus travel ban will be extended to the UK and Ireland from Monday.

Mr Trump indicated the move was in response to an increase in virus activity in the countries.

The UK and Ireland were originally excluded when Mr Trump announced a ban on travel from the Schengen travel area in continental Europe. But speaking in the White House, he said that position was being changed.

Deputy Irish Premier Simon Coveney said Irish citizens should exercise a high degree of caution when making travel plans particularly in Europe.

Mr Coveney said a growing number of countries are also imposing restrictions on entry and exit.

His department is now advising against non-essential travel to the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, the Irish Premier said his Government and the Northern Ireland Executive share the same goal on tackling Covid-19 but they differ on timing.

Leo Varadkar has said Covid-19 is an illness "that knows no borders" as administrations on either side of the border follow different strategies.

Mr Varadkar said: "This virus knows no borders, no nationality. It is a problem for all of us. Our response to it is made more difficult as we do have two jurisdictions on this island."

There are more than 100 cases of Covid-19 on the island of Ireland but differences have emerged as schools in the Republic have closed and public gatherings have been curtailed.

Northern Ireland's administration has not introduced the same measures, although Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said schools should be shut.

Mr Varadkar said: "There will be differences of approach over the next few weeks and months, we are different jurisdictions and there are differences and there will be differences, but the differences that exist are mostly around timing.

"What there isn't any difference about is our common objective, which is to slow down this virus in its tracks and push it back as much as possible and limit the harm to human health and human life."

It comes as Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has insisted it remains the wrong time to close schools in Northern Ireland.

Mr Weir was responding after the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, wrote to urge him to consider closing schools and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said schools should close.

Speaking in Armagh on Saturday, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said schools in Northern Ireland will close when "the timing is right" and parents should prepare as they may close for several months.

She said: "We will take that action when it is the right time to do it. There are two different jurisdictions on this island.

"Schools will not be closed immediately but schools and parents should prepare because when they do they will close for at least 16 weeks."

When asked about the different approaches being taken on the island, she said: "In terms of the co-operation I don't think the co-operation could be any better between our chief medical officers, between our ministers of health and between the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive."

Mrs O'Neill repeated a call she made on Friday that Northern Ireland should follow the Republic's lead and close schools.

She said: "People are taking decisions in advance of government and my own personal opinion is that schools should close now.

"I think the fact that you can have two schools a mile apart and one school's open and one school's closed, that's a very confusing picture and a very confusing message for the public."

Mrs Foster said both governments had "very coherent messages" and that Stormont is taking advice from the Public Health Agency and the chief medical officer on when was the appropriate time to shut schools.

"There are two different jurisdictions on this island and we may do things differently in terms of timing, but the tools are all the same in terms of what we are going to do to try and combat this virus," she said.

 

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, who was not at the meeting, said the UK's response to coronavirus "should be rejected" and is "totally unacceptable in the north of Ireland".

John O'Dowd, a Sinn Fein MLA, launched a tirade against Boris Johnson's handling of the situation, claiming the UK Government was conducting a "twisted medical experiment".

The Upper Bann MLA said: "Let's be clear, this shire of bastards are using everyone of us in some form of twisted medical experiment.

"Do you honestly believe the rest of Europe is wrong & this balloon and his ilk are right.

"If you are not angry it's time to get angry, we are on the brink of disaster!"

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