Norfolk MP asks if government can guarantee “cross-border” coronavirus response
PUBLISHED: 14:59 17 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:59 17 March 2020
A recently-elected Norfolk MP has questioned government ministers over whether a “cross-border” coronavirus response is in place between the UK and Ireland.
Jerome Mayhew, the MP for Broadland, asked Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (FCO) ministers how they were responding to coronavirus on the “island of Ireland” in parliament on Wednesday.
He said: “Covid-19 obviously doesn’t respect international borders.
“So could the minister set out what steps the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is taking to effectively manage the response to the virus on the island of Ireland?”
Despite foreign minister Nigel Adams responding that health is a devolved issue in the regions of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, he asserted that all are in “regular contact at the highest levels” to discuss responses.
On Tuesday, the Treasury announced that Northern Ireland was to receive £260m to support its efforts to contain the coronavirus, alongside £475 for the Welsh Government and £780 for Scotland.
The minister said: “On Saturday at the North South Ministerial Council in Omagh, the deputy first minister met with the Taoiseach and Chief Medical Officer over the issue of coronavirus.”
The council was established under the Good Friday agreement (1998) to develop co-operation within the island of Ireland.
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But there are concerns the coronavirus strategy between the Republic and Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly divergent.
Yesterday, it was revealed that hundreds of healthcare staff had signed a letter to politicians in Northern Ireland calling for immediate social distancing - as is currently the policy in the Republic.
As of Monday, March 17, there were 52 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Northern Ireland.
While schools, pubs and cafes are shut in the Republic, Northern Ireland ministers continue to follow the same policy as the rest of the UK.
In reply to Mr Mayhew’s question, the FCO minister said that “the Chief Secretary of State for Ireland is always in contact with his counterpart”, adding that “we make sure that we know what is happening at all times”.
Other questions put to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab regarding coronavirus were about the possibility of a vaccine being developed in conjuction with Australia, Germany and the USA.
Mr Raab agreed that “co-ordiating vaccine research” was vital, and said that the government was updating its travel advice on a constant basis.
He said: “There have been over 200 changes to travel advice over the last two weekends.”
“Protecting British nationals abroad is our priority.”