Northern Ireland will introduce a four-week circuit-breaker lockdown from FRIDAY with pubs restaurants and schools closed

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Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph

Health officials had warned infections would rise further if both schools and hospitality premises remained open.

Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a minimum of a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster announced today.

The moves are among new restrictions being imposed by the executive.

The province will ramp up its coronavirus measures after it suffered a sharp up-spike in cases. Some 863 cases were reported in Northern Ireland yesterday – bringing the total to 21,898 – along with seven new deaths.

It came as Ireland this morning suggested that it will consider altering its own coronavirus measures in the counties that border Ulster. 

Hospitality businesses will be limited to takeaway and delivery services for four weeks from Friday.

Shops will remain open, as will gyms for individual training. Churches will also stay open, but with a 25-person guest limit on funerals and weddings. Receptions are banned.

The fortnight school closure includes a week of half-term holiday, so children would only miss a single week of lessons. 

While the moves do not amount to a full scale lockdown similar to that imposed during the first wave of the virus, they mark a significant ramping up in Northern Ireland’s response to spiraling infection rates.

Measures include…

  • Bubbling to be limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households;
  • No overnight stays in a private home unless in a bubble;
  • Closure of the hospitality sector apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11.00pm remaining. 
  • Other takeaway premises will be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11.00pm;
  • Close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are not permitted to open, apart from those relating to the continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics. 
  • No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level;
  • No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply);
  • Gyms may remain open but for individual training only with local enforcement in place;
  • Funerals to be limited to 25 people with no pre- or post-funeral gatherings; 
  • Off licenses and supermarkets will not sell alcohol after 8.00pm;
  • Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships to be limited to 25 people with no receptions.  This will be implemented on Monday 19 October.  Venues providing the post-ceremony or partnership celebration this weekend may remain open for this purpose but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership party and this will be limited to 25;

And the following advice will be added to the existing health guidance:    

  • Work from home unless unable to do so;
  • Universities and further education to deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible with only essential face to face learning where that is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course;
  • No unnecessary travel should be undertaken.

The half term holiday break for schools and colleges will be extended to a two-week break to run from 19th to 30th October. 

Places of worship will remain open with a mandatory requirement to wear face coverings when entering and exiting.  This will not apply to parties to a marriage or civil partnerships.

The retail sector will also stay open at this time. Further engagement is planned to ensure that the sector does everything it can to help suppress the virus.

The Executive will urgently engage with sectors and work on support for those affected as a matter of priority.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We are facing the tough reality of rapidly rising rates of infection. There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19.

“The Executive has given careful and painstaking consideration of the right blend of actions that will do maximum damage to the virus but minimum harm to life chances today and tomorrow.

“We understand that these interventions will be hard but they will not be in place for a moment longer than they need to be. I would ask everyone to work with us to save lives and protect our health service.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The Executive has taken these very difficult decisions in response to the emergency situation we are faced with. The Coronavirus infection rate has reached crisis levels and our health service is in real danger of becoming overwhelmed.

“Urgent intervention is needed to interrupt the spread of the virus and prevent a worsening of the situation.

“These measures will be in place for four weeks, but they will only be effective if we have the support of public. We are appealing to everyone to do everything you can over these next few weeks to help keep everyone safe and save lives.

“We know this is hard and that people will be really worried about their livelihoods, but we will do everything we possibly can to make sure there are protections in place for families, workers and businesses.”

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