Churches across Northern Ireland rang their bells at midday to acknowledge the efforts of healthcare workers on the frontline during the coronavirus crisis.

The initiative also aims to give people a sense of hope in the weeks and months ahead.

The idea came from a woman in north Belfast, who spoke to local priest Fr Gary Donegan.

A member of a local Protestant church contacted one of his colleagues and raised the possibility of some kind of joint activity.

Fr Donegan posted messages on social media inviting churches of all traditions to join the initiative to give people a sense of hope, as well as say thanks to those battling to save lives.

Churches across Belfast as well as in counties Derry, Down and Fermanagh quickly signed up.

The sound of bells could be heard in the eerily quiet streets of Belfast and Derry city centres today.

The plan is to ring the bells at 12pm every Friday until the coronavirus crisis ends.

The priest said the initiative is particularly important at this time, as churches have ended public services including funerals because of the risk of the virus spreading.

"This is a very worrying time for everyone across all communities," he said.

"We wanted to do something to give people a sense of solidarity and a sense of hope. We also want to pay tribute to healthcare workers and others who are putting themselves at risk to help others at this time."

He hopes churches all over the island of Ireland will join in.

Individuals are also being encouraged to join the initiative by ringing a bell in their own homes.

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"Even if it is just a Christmas bell, people can join in. They can feel part of this," Fr Donegan said.

"Obviously we don't want people to congregate, we want them to keep their distance, but we also want them to feel part of a community, a community from all traditions from all over Ireland that will get through this together.

"This is actually a sign saying we are a strong people, you know we've come through all kinds of adversities and we’ll come through this.

"We will be bruised and battered, we will be sore and hurting, but we will come through this and we’ll be stronger for it."

A number of individuals rang bells in their homes at noon today and sent him footage.

"It can be a minute, it can be whatever," he says.

"Just take time to pause and to reflect. You don't have to be in any way religious, it can just be a time to think and to give thanks to the heroes and heroines who are working for us."

The contributions included one from Co Donegal, where the only bell available was a small pink one with the message "Press me for Prosecco".

"She rang it in the best possible taste," chuckled the priest. "That made me laugh, and let’s face it, we can all do with a laugh at this time."

The leaders of Ireland’s main churches today issued a joint statement paying tribute to everyone in the health and social care services and those in the frontline of efforts to combat Covid-19.