Northern Ireland news

Naomi Long apologises after ministers fail to speak to media following Covid-19 lockdown announcement

Alliance Leader and justice minister Naomi Long. Picture by Mal McCann
Digital Staff

Justice Minister Naomi Long has apologised after senior ministers did not made themselves available for media interviews following last night's announcement of new Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann have not given media interviews since the announcement last night that non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants will have to close for two weeks from November 27 in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Ms Long apologised for this during a radio interview this morning, saying her understanding had been that the ministers would have been engaging with the media.

"We were all to make ourselves available to do interviews and so on today to try to explain what is obviously quite a devastating announcement yesterday for a lot of businesses, and I can only apologise because that does not appear to have happened, but I am certainly happy to do my best to explain what happened," she told the BBC.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

"We were in a situation where we were given advice that if we did not make decisions with respect to lockdown and more enhanced restrictions and quite a strong circuit-breaker, that we would end up having to bring in restrictions over Christmas and that we would have our hospitals in a pretty bad state."

Sinn Féin said Michelle O'Neill will hold a press conference later this morning.

Under the new restrictions, close-contact services and cafes can open tomorrow but will have to close again next Friday, while other hospitality sectors like pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed throughout.

From November 27, non-essential retail and services like hairdressers, beauticians and driving lessons will also have to shut to protect an NHS battling a surge in coronavirus cases.

Takeaway hospitality services will be allowed but leisure and entertainment services will be closed.

Colin Neill, chief executive of industry group Hospitality Ulster, said: "There is a huge amount of anger right across the hospitality industry.

Robin Swann warned that new measures were needed to stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Picture by Michael Cooper/PA Wire.

"We have been left with left with no trade, no hope and a huge amount of redundancies on our hands."

The measures were taken as top doctors warned hospitals could otherwise be overwhelmed.

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