THERE have been renewed calls to shut schools in the north to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Ten special schools closed indefinitely from today (Monday). Principals said this would allow them to seek clear guidance on the health and safety issues facing their pupils.

Eleven new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the north on Sunday, bringing the total to 45.

First Minister Arlene Foster said on Saturday school closures would be introduced when "medical evidence" advised it was necessary but added that when it happened they could last up to 16 weeks.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill called for schools to close immediately, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Archibishop Eamon Martin, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, also stating they should shut now.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey called on the Education Minister to show leadership and close schools during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I welcome the initiative from Belfast special schools to close from tonight as a pre-cautionary measure,” he said.

“This is an effort to protect pupils and staff and to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

“These schools are displaying formidable leadership during what is a very difficult time for communities and wider society.

“I am calling on Education Minister Peter Weir to replicate this leadership by moving to close all schools with immediate effect.

“We must continue working to protect the health and well-being of all our citizens.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Party Group Leader on Belfast City Council, Ciaran Beattie, has contacted the CEO of the Council and political parties to request that Council-owned leisure centres shut with immediate effect as the threat from COVID-19 intensifies.

“I have written to both the CEO of Belfast City Council and political parties on Council to propose that we shut leisure centres with immediate effect,” he said.

“This proposal follows the increased threat posed by COVID-19 to the health and well-being of citizens.

“The closure of leisure centres is measured, rational and the correct choice. It will further strengthen our agreed plan as a council to combat COVID-19.

“Leisure centres have been identified as high risk locations for the transmission of the virus with a high volume of people in close proximity and sharing equipment.

“As a Council there is an obligation on us to not only protect the citizens of this city, but also our leisure centre and council staff.

“Sinn Féin will actively work in Belfast City Council, as we are doing across the island, to protect the health and well-being of all our citizens in the time ahead.”

In West Belfast, institutions such as Felons club, Andersonstown Social Club and the Roddy McCorley Society have closed with immediate effect.

A statement from the Andersonstown Social Club (PD) read: “Due to the current health crisis around the coronavirus and its impending and unprecedented impact the Andersonstown Social Club (PD) will be closed indefinitely.

“We apologise for the sudden nature of this announcement but we had to move quickly to protect staff members and patrons and their families by not providing a close contact environment for large gatherings in the club.

“We are alert to the impact this has also for our staff and employment and will be working closely with them in the time ahead. Our clubs ethos is embedded in republicanism and the community and it in the time ahead we all need to be there for each other.

“Look out for our neighbours, the elderly, the infirm and those in general who can’t do it alone!
“We wish everyone well in the time ahead.”