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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran and Tori Watson

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    And following the 'Matter of the Day' debate, proceedings at the Assembly wrap up for the day.

    It's been action-packed but there's more to come tomorrow from 10:30.

    Join us then.

  2. 'Aviation not a devolved matter'

    Gary Middleton of the DUP notes that aviation is not a devolved matter and is controlled by Whitehall.

    Gary Middleton

    He quotes his party colleague Gavin Robinson the East Belfast MP: "The UK government has large ambitions in terms of improving regional connectivity, however these to date have been very much light on detail."

  3. MLA's sister was cabin crew for seven years

    The SDLP's Sinead McLaughlin calls on the "UK government to end air passenger duty for flights between Northern Ireland and GB".

    She says, "APD is just an extra tax that makes it more expensive to fly and puts strain on our regional airports".

    John Stewart

    Meanwhile, John Stewart of the UUP describes Flybe's collapse as a "body blow to the economy of Northern Ireland".

    His says his sister was cabin crew for the airline for seven years and "found out at half-past midnight on the night the company had gone bust that she had lost her job".

  4. 'Flybe collapse has been a hammer blow'

    Caoimhe Archibald (below) of Sinn Féin chairs the Economy Committee.

    She says that the airline going into administration has affected business people, students and families.

    It is "a real blow for the local economy" Ms Archibald says.

    Caoimhe Archibald

    The DUP's Robin Newton says Belfast City Airport "deserves and needs the support of the business community, the wider community and indeed, the political community".

    He says the collapse of the airline has been "a hammer blow".

  5. Flybe - 'NI's unique circumstances must be addressed'

    Final item of the day is a "matter of the day" statement from Alliance MLA Andrew Muir on the collapse of the airline Flybe.

    The carrier, which operated about 80% of flights at Belfast City airport, went into administration on Thursday.

    "The focus following the closure of Flybe must first and foremost be with the staff," Mr Muir says.

    Flybe plane

    "The unique circumstances of Northern Ireland must also be addressed," Mr Muir says, calling for the restoration of connectivity to the level it was at before the collapse of Flybe.

  6. 'Planning has been second to none'

    Sinn Féin's Emma Rogan asks Robin Swann to update MLAs about any discussions he's had with healthcare trade unions.

    He responds by saying the chief medical officer has been in regular contact with trusts as well as community groups. "Health unions are a crucial part of our work force," Mr Swann adds. "Without them working with us, this system does not work."

    Maurice Bradley of the DUP asks the minister what planning is in place for churches, sports events and community halls. "I'm not being alarmist in anyway," says Mr Bradley, "I'm a believer in planning".

    Mr Swann says he can assure MLAs that the "health service has been planning for situations like this year in, year out".

    Emma Rogan

    "The work on this for the last six to eight weeks has been second to none," adds the minister.

    He adds that there are discussions at Cobra level about "how we approach large-scale gatherings" so there is a consistent message across the UK.

  7. 'It's not a bit of fun'

    The UUP's Robbie Butler asks the minister about the financial implications of self-isolation for those who have contracted the virus.

    Mr Swann responds that his understanding is that the issue has been raised in the House of Commons and that the Department for Work and Pensions will "put something in place to ensure people aren't adversely affected by following what is good and science-based medical advice".

    He adds that this is a devolved issue and that he would encourage the executive and ministers to replicate guidance from Westminister on this issue.

    Swann speaks to chamber

    Meanwhile Paula Bradley of Alliance asks the minister whether there will be a further roll-out of drive-through testing pods at hospitals, such as that at the hospital in Antrim.

    Mr Swann replies that there will be more pods put in place, but that they will not be at every hospital location.

    He urges members of the public "just don't turn up at them - it's not a bit of fun to see if you've got Covid-19".

    He says there have already been instances where people have arrived to be tested but have not been referred by their GP, as required.

  8. 'No impact from cancelling sports events now'

    The DUP's Gordon Dunne asks about advice to airports where travellers may be arriving from places where the virus is prevalent.

    The minister says "we're fortunate that we never had those direct flights from some of the serious areas".

    He says the advice given to ports and airports is set centrally from Westminster and is common to all ports and airports across the UK.

    sports crowd

    Justin McNulty of the SDLP asks what actions the minister envisages regarding St Patrick's Day parades and sporting events in the coming days and weeks.

    "At this moment in time I will be led by the science," Mr Swann replies.

    He says the specialist advisory group on emergencies, which is a UK-wide group of experts, has said that "cancelling any large events or sporting activities would not have a serious impact on either delaying or containing COVID-19 at this moment in time".

  9. Away from the house on the hill

    An annual St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin has been cancelled amid fears about the spread of coronavirus, Irish broadcaster RTÉ reports.

    Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has said the coronavirus situation is very serious.

    View more on twitter

    Meanwhile in Belfast, discussions are ongoing at the city hall about whether the city's St Patrick's procession will go ahead.

    Read more here.

  10. 'Consistent approach'

    The chairperson of the Health Committee, Colm Gildernew, asks the minister to outline what consideration is being given regarding moving from containment to delay and mitigation.

    Mr Swann says "we are currently in containment phase as it's working for us here in Northern Ireland".

    He adds that there will be a time when the strategy is to move to the delay sequence but that will be guided by science.

    Colm Gildernew

    The minister adds that he has been in daily contact with the minister for health in the Republic of Ireland, Simon Harris.

    He adds that the five chief medical officers from "across the jurisdictions" are due to hold a conference call to "ensure a consistent approach".

  11. 'Be alert but not alarmed'

    The minister says "everyone can help stop the spread of COVID-19".

    "Washing hands, thoroughly and often" and taking note of "standard advice for similar illnesses, such as cold and flu" will all help, he says.

    "We need to walk a fine line and be alert but not alarmed," adds the minister.

    NI Assembly

    He says the "current evidence is the vast majority of cases appear to be mild and make a speedy recovery" and that is a "crucial point to remind people".

    But he also says there are some citizens who are "more vulnerable than others" and that it is important to ensure they are also protected.

  12. 'We are well prepared to deal with this'

    "The first minister,deputy first minister and I have been in discussion with our counterparts across the UK at a Cobra ministerial meeting this morning to consider the medical scientific evidence that will guide us in our steps," Mr Swann says.

    The minister says there are no known implications for Northern Ireland from the cases in the Republic of Ireland "and the relevant public health bodies remain in close contact".


    "Our health service is used to managing infections and we are well prepared to deal with this," he assures the members.

  13. Health Minister Swann's statement on coronavirus

    Health Minister Robin Swann rises to give members an update on local developments regarding coronavirus.

    There have been 222 tests in Northern Ireland with 12 positive cases.

    Regarding the five positive cases announced on Sunday night - two were travel-related, involving people who were recently in northern Italy, the remaining three can be traced to previous cases that involved recent travel to Northern Italy.

    Robin Swann

    Mr Swann says "one of the three is a young person, the individual attends a school that is co-located with a primary school".

    "PHA is content that there is no public health risk to anyone attending either of the schools," the minister adds.

    "Both schools will be closing today to undertake an advanced clean," Mr Swann says.

  14. Risks to special school pupils

    UUP MLA Robbie Butler asks if pupils at special schools are perhaps at greater risk and should it be the responsibility to be their advocate and to give advice rather than the Department of Health.

    Mr Weir says its not his place to "second guess the quality of advice coming from the PHA".

    He says they have to follow the direct, expert medical advice.

    Clare Bailey

    Green Party leader Clare Bailey asks the minister for an update on the work being done with his counterparts in the republic.

    Mr Weir says it's obvious that there is an open border and that "nobody is at any greater or lesser risk traveling across border than they are travelling within Northern Ireland or within the Republic of Ireland".

  15. 'Principals feel isolated'

    The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan tells the minister that many principals say they feel "isolated", have been given "no clear guidance" and are "under huge pressure to make the right decision in the interest of their children and their staff".

    He goes on to ask the minister, if a principal decides to go ahead with a trip and a "child gets contaminated, who's liable in that case?"

    Peter Weir

    Mr Weir says there has been "very clear guidance given to schools" and that they should continue to seek advice from the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office regarding potential trips.

    "We have to approach this in a measured manner," adds Mr Weir.

    "People have to ultimately make their own decisions, but I strongly urge them to follow the expert advice."

  16. Changes to the agenda - Coronavirus and Flybe

    We've got a couple of changes to the agenda for this afternoon with an urgent oral question and ministerial statement on coronavirus, and a matter of the day on Flybe.

  17. Advice for schools on pupil travel

    Chris Lyttle of Alliance asks for an update on advice to schools regarding coronavirus.

    Peter Weir remains in position for this one, but this time he's got his education minister hat on.

    He says the Department of Education is working with the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency (PHA).

    Schools have been directed to the PHA website and have been told to monitor the website regularly.


    Chris Lyttle asks if the ministers accept that there are school leaders who feel they have been led "from pillar to post" in order to get clear guidance in particular in connection with pupil travel to areas affected by coronavirus.

    He also asks about provision of education in the event of school closures.

    The minister says the exam board, CCEA, is considering what to do if exams are disrupted.

    Referring to school trips, he says the department "has made it very clear that the travel advice schools should get is directly from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office".

  18. What measures in place to protect businesses from COVID-19 impact?

    Topical questions begin with the SDLP's Sinéad Bradley.

    She asks the minister about the collapse of Flybe, noting that the airline said COVID-19 was the final straw that forced its collapse.

    Ms Bradley asks what measures the Department for the Economy is making to ensure businesses and "the economy in general is protected".

    Peter Weir

    Mr Weir responds that while COVID-19 may have played a role in Flybe's demise, it "should be recognised that it was in difficulty prior to that, which led to intervention by the government".

    He says the department will be working "closely with its counterparts in London" on what is a "fast moving situation".

  19. 'Common sense approach' to coronavirus

    The first minister says there should be a "common sense approach" to coronavirus.

    Arlene Foster made the comments in London after an emergency meeting of the government's Cobra committee. The UK is remaining in the "containment" stage of its response to the coronavirus.

    On Sunday, five people were diagnosed with coronavirus in NI, bringing the number of cases to 12.

    View more on twitter
  20. 'Employers pay hefty apprenticeship levy'

    TUV leader Jim Alister asks about the position of larger employers who have to pay the apprenticeship levy.

    He questions whether the employers who are paying "a hefty levy but not getting anything like the return that their colleagues are in GB".


    Mr Weir says it's a "reserved matter" controlled by Westminster and that Stormont doesn't have a say.

    He says that the Department for the Economy can be a facilitator but apprenticeships are essentially demand-led.