Northern Ireland news

Drink-only pubs get go-ahead to reopen on Wednesday but further local restrictions in Co Armagh

Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young warned there will be `more deaths' in coming weeks

CORONAVIRUS restrictions have been extended to parts of Co Armagh, as the average seven-day positive Covid-19 cases across Northern Ireland now exceeds the level where health officials consider re-introducing lockdown.

There were 149 new cases in the last 24 hours alone, with Department of Health figures showing just three council areas are below the 30 per 100,000 people threshold which triggers consideration of drastic measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus

The BT60 area was last night added to the parts of the north where movement will be once again restricted.

The news came as it was announced that pubs that do not serve food will be able to reopen next Wednesday.

Venues will be required to identify the number of people who can safely be accommodated with social distancing requirements and clearly display the figure in the premises, with table service only.

Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill has welcomed the re-opening date for non-food pubs as a "vital lifeline" for hundreds of businesses.

"Although it is two days after the intended date, we recognise that it is better to delay by a couple of days to get the new regulations right to support a Covid-secure environment," he said.

"For the hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees, this news will be a vital lifeline and will hopefully reassure those who were concerned for their future."

Around 600 bars in Northern Ireland do not serve food.

Coronavirus clampdowns in Belfast, Dundonald, Carryduff, Lisburn, the area around Belfast International Airport, Ballymena and the BT43 postcode were already subject to restrictions which became legally enforceable by police on Wednesday and repeat offenders face fines of up to £960.

In the last seven days there were 689 cases across the north - 33.3 per 100,000 - with the number of people admitted to hospital trebling to 21.

Only Causeway Coast and Glens, Fermanagh and Omagh and Mid-Ulster is now recording fewer than 30 cases in the past week, with Belfast sitting at 176 and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon 116, while Derry and Strabane posted 70 and Antrim and Newtownabbey 63.

There have been 46 positive cases in Ards and North Down, 44 in Newry, Mourne and Down and 43 in Mid and East Antrim.

In the area around the airport the number of positive cases has hit 383.9 per 100,000.

The department yesterday published its estimated Covid-19 reproduction number at 1.2 - with an average of 90.3 people testing positive every day.

Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young said there has been "a plateauing in cases and an increase in hospital admissions" over the last week, but warned there will be "more deaths" in coming weeks - with positive cases higher per 100,000 than the Republic and the rest of the UK.

He said while the proportion of infected people aged over 60 "remains significantly below wave one of the epidemic" - when it accounted for around 50 per cent - "the current increase in cases in younger people is likely to lead to increasing cases in the over sixties with resulting pressure on the hospital system and, tragically, increasing deaths".

"It is obvious from these figures that we are still seeing an increase in Covid-19 across Northern Ireland and we must all play our part in trying to stem this tide, help protect ourselves and those around us, in particular the most vulnerable."

The department looks closely at lockdown in areas "if the number rises above 30 in 100,000 over the previous seven days".

In the Republic it was announced that one person with Covid-19 has died, bringing its total to 1,789, with 240 new cases confirmed yesterday, the bulk of those in Dublin.

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