Northern Ireland news

Ministers 'expect to make decision on hospitality restrictions next Monday'

Stormont's Executive had a "comprehensive" discussion today about what measures may need to be introduced from November 13 when enhanced restrictions come to an end, the first minister said
Michael McHugh, Rebecca Black and Michelle Devane, Press Association

Ministers expect to decide on the future for Northern Ireland's locked down hospitality industry by Monday November 9, Arlene Foster said.

Stormont's Executive had a "comprehensive" discussion today about what measures may need to be introduced from November 13 when enhanced restrictions come to an end, she said.

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Mr Sunak has also announced £400 million in additional funding for the Stormont Executive to address Covid-19 challenges.

Health officials have recommended Northern Ireland's shuttered pubs and restaurants should stay closed but no decision was taken at Stormont today.

Mrs Foster said: "Those discussions will continue and we will intensify our engagement with the hospitality sector representatives as we seek a safe and sustainable way forward for that industry.

"We want to be able to make announcements at the earliest possible opportunity to provide businesses with certainty and allow people to see the plan."

The StopCovidNI contact-tracing app has been downloaded more than half a million times.

The ministers said the restrictions were beginning to have an impact on the infection rate.

Mrs Foster said: "We have seen significant progress on transmission rates.

"The number of new cases has dropped and the estimated R rate in the community has fallen to around 0.7."

She said the number of patients requiring treatment remained high and the proportion of older people affected had increased.

Movement has fallen, with a 57% decrease in footfall in Belfast city centre.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill expressed her concern that 409 people are in hospitals with Covid-19, more than at any point during the first wave of the virus.

Combined with significant levels of staff absences across the system, she said, the situation was unsustainable and added health staff needed help.

"The infection rate won't stay at a low enough level unless we work very hard to keep it there," she said.

There have been 12 further Covid-19 linked deaths in Northern Ireland - eight within the last 24 hours and another four reported that occurred earlier, the Department of Health has announced.

There were another 516 new cases of the virus. The death toll stands at 752. Read more

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Dr Michael McBride said "very significant progress" is being made in the fight against the disease thanks to the latest measures, but he recognises people are "fed up" of Covid-19.

He added: "I know how distressing and anxious a time it has been for those working in many sectors, in hospitality, retail and close personal services.

"The difficulty with this virus is that it is highly transmissible and it spreads best when people are close together, and the more people that are close together, particularly indoors, the easier it is for the virus to spread."

Health Minister Robin Swann said the coming period was still "highly uncertain".

He warned: "We believe further waves are still a continuing threat.

"But there are, however, signs that the action that has been taken by the Executive is having an impact with the number of infections actually stabilising."

The first and deputy first ministers met with Rhonda Tait, whose mother Josephine Brown died in April.

A video appeal made by Ms Tait was played at the briefing during which she urged people to wear masks to protect themselves and others from the spread of the virus.

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