Northern Ireland news

Two-week lockdown to begin next week

Health minister Robin Swann warned that more interventions were necessary before the end of this month to curb the spread of coronavirus.

STORMONT ministers last night agreed to bring in a further two weeks of tougher ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions before Christmas to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed.

They took the decision after being told the ‘R’ number “has settled around 1”, having earlier been as low as 0.6, with in-patient numbers still higher than during the first wave and “declining slowly”.

  • From midnight next Friday all hospitality, close-contact services, non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment will be closed
  • Places of worship will close except for weddings, civil partnerships and funerals with a maximum of 25 participants
  • There will be a strict message for people to work from home if they can and only to leave for essential purposes
  • Rules around household gatherings will be unchanged
  • There can be no gatherings of more than one household beyond existing bubbles, except for caring, maintenance and house moves
  • Close-contact services can reopen today but only for one week
  • Schools and childcare will remain open
  • Universities will conduct distanced learning except where it has to be face to face
  • Public parks and outdoor play will remain open, unlike during the first lockdown in March
  • Off-licences to close at 8pm
  • Sport will be played behind closed doors
  • Leisure centres, tennis courts, golf courses, dance studios, swimming pools and gyms will be closed and driving instruction will once again cease
  • Takeaway, delivery and food and drink in motorway service stations will remain open.

Read More: North 'in line to receive 4.35 million doses of coronavirus vaccines'

A financial support package will be developed over the next few days.

The decision will come as a major blow to pubs and restaurants which had been told they could reopen next Friday.

However, Health Minister Robin Swann warned that more interventions were necessary before the month ends.

He said that if no new measures were introduced, even a full lockdown in mid-December would not prevent the health service being swamped.

Last night’s developments came as the Department of Health confirmed the north would receive up to 4.3 million doses of two vaccines once they receive authorisation.

Both of the vaccines – from Pfizer and AtstraZeneca – could be available for use in the UK by the end of next month but officials said it would take some time to roll out.

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Northern Ireland news