NI sports minister appeals for games to be played ‘behind closed doors’

NI sports minister appeals for games to be played ‘behind closed doors’

Northern Ireland’s communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín. Picture: Rebecca Black/PA

Northern Ireland’s sports minister has appealed for games to be played “behind closed doors”.

Carál Ní Chuilín made her comments after confusion on Friday evening over whether supporters were allowed to attend a football match under tough new coronavirus regulations.

The latest regulations are aimed at stemming a dramatic increase in cases of the virus.

They came into effect at 6pm on Friday for four weeks.

The Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) said it received a letter from Ms Ní Chuilín advising it was “necessary to stop spectators from attending sporting events”.

This led to uncertainty over whether to let fans into a Danske Bank Premiership clash between Coleraine and Ballymena United at Coleraine Showgrounds.

First Minister Arlene Foster responded to developments on social media, stating the regulations “do not ban spectators in the grounds of elite sports”.

“The existing position is maintained permitting a limited number to attend. Preposterous for clubs to be told anything to the contrary,” she posted on Twitter.

Ms Ní Chuilín told the BBC she issued her guidance following advice from the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser.

“I’m appealing to the sporting bodies to take my advice and to try to play their events behind closed doors because I think we all are trying our best to be safe, to protect lives and to protect each other,” she told the BBC.

“I have a duty as minister of sport to ensure that not only are the sporting bodies, the fans, but the general public are protected.”

On Saturday, another 1,031 cases of Covid-19 were announced by the Department of Health, bringing the total in the region to 26,208.

This includes 6,891 new positive cases notified in the last seven days.

Two further deaths were also reported taking the toll recorded by the department to 610.

There were 231 patients with Covid-19 being treated in hospital, with 27 in intensive care.

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