NI newspaper review: Swann's coronavirus warning and tablets seizure

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CoronavirusImage source, Getty Images

The c-word again looms large on the front pages on Friday, with the Irish News, News Letter and Belfast Telegraph carrying a warning from Health Minister Robin Swann that there could be up to 15,000 coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland.

Mr Swann was speaking after the first coronavirus-related death in Northern Ireland was confirmed - an elderly man who had an underlying medical condition and was being treated in a hospital in the greater Belfast area.

Mr Swann described the scale of the impending surge as being "of biblical proportions".

The Irish News highlights his comments that the health service will "fast become unrecognisable".

It also reports that coronavirus testing is being ramped up in Northern Ireland to "allow for swabbing of 800 people a day".

The paper continues with the news that 850 final-year nursing and midwifery students are to be drafted into the health service over the next 10 to 14 days.

The Belfast Telegraph and Irish News both report that sportswear firm O'Neills is temporarily laying off up to 750 people in Northern Ireland as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The firm said it had no alternative but to take "drastic measures", the move was "unprecedented" in its history and the decision had not "been made lightly".

Image source, News Letter
Image caption,
Front page of the News Letter on Friday

A number of the newspapers, including the News Letter, carry Education Minister Peter Weir's statement that A-level and GCSE exams will not be held in Northern Ireland this summer.

On Wednesday it was announced that Northern Ireland's schools will close from Monday.

Mr Weir said pupils would still receive "fair, equitable results that reflect their hard work".

He added that CCEA, with the other awarding organisations, will develop a "robust process for awarding grades".

The News Letter has an interview with Colin Neill, head of Hospitality Ulster, who has issued an appeal for government aid for stricken food and drink firms.

He said he had "lost count of the number of pubs, restaurants and hotels that are closed".

He added that he felt there should be a £200 weekly payment for each person in the sector who has been put out of work.

Image caption,
Colin Neill wants more government aid for people in the food and drink sector who have lost their jobs

The Daily Mirror also focuses heavily on the coronavirus pandemic, but, like the other papers, highlights a number of other stories too.

It says police have seized 140,000 illegal and unlicensed tablets as well as other medicines bought online.

The operation was run by the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) in Northern Ireland.

The items seized include hormone treatments, as well as diazepam and pregabalin (a drug used to treat epilepsy).

The paper also highlights a priest's anger after a man was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg in Londonderry on Wednesday night.

Police said three masked men were involved in the incident at Magowan Park in Creggan and it had "all the hallmarks of a paramilitary-style shooting".

Fr Joseph Gormley said he was "absolutely appalled" at what had happened.

"When you consider that we have doctors and nurses desperately trying to prepare to treat many people, these people are making their task so much more difficult," he said."