Northern Ireland: Stormont imposes ‘vitally important’ four-week lockdown on hospitality and schools
Pubs, restaurants, and schools are set to close across Northern Ireland after the Stormont executive agreed to new restrictions in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The measures do not amount to a full-scale lockdown similar to that imposed during the first wave of the virus, but they mark a significant ramping up of the administration’s response to spiralling infection rates.
It followed a lengthy, and at times strained, meeting of ministers amid a surging number of coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland.
In a statement this morning, First Minister Arlene Foster said the country’s infection rate had to be reduced “or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed.”
Under the new measures, which will last for four weeks from Friday, the half term holiday break will be extended for schools in Northern Ireland from October 19 to October 30, with schools reopening on Monday, November 2.
The administration is also advising universities and colleges to implement distance learning for students unless face-to-face tuition is an “unavoidable part of the course”.
Pubs and restaurants will close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries, with the existing closing time of 11pm being extended to other takeaway premises.
There will also be a ban on close-contact services, like hairdressing, in a domestic setting.
Personal bubbles to be limited to a maximum of 10 people from 2 households, and overnight stays in a private home will be banned unless the people share a bubble.
Retail outlets will remain open, as will gyms for individual training.
Churches will also remain open. It is understood a 25-person limit will be placed on funerals and weddings, but wedding receptions are prohibited.
Indoor sporting activities are not allowed and outdoor contact sports will be limited to elite athletes.
Off licences will be required to shut at 8pm.
Announcing the measures at a special sitting of the Assembly this morning, Ms Foster said the rising Covid-19 figures in Northern Ireland were of “grave concern”.
“We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people,” she said, “The Executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail.
“We do not take this step lightly.
“We want these measures to have two impacts. First, on the Covid transmission rates which must be turned down now, or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed.
“Second, we believe it marks a point where everyone, each and every one of us, can take stock and go back to the social distancing messaging.
“That is vitally important,” she added.
A further seven deaths with Covid-19 and another 863 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Tuesday.
Some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 21,898.
As of Tuesday, there were 150 patients in hospitals with Covid-19, including 23 in intensive care.
The Derry and Strabane Council area has been experiencing the highest infection rate in the UK and Ireland, with a seven day average of 970 cases per 100,000 people.
The area is already subject to additional localised restrictions.
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