Northern Ireland to close pubs, restaurants and schools under covid 'circuit break'

14 October 2020, 08:14 | Updated: 14 October 2020, 16:34

By Asher McShane

Northern Ireland has imposed a period of intensified covid restrictions with pubs and restaurants shut for four weeks and schools to close for two weeks over half term.

Pubs and restaurants will close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Schools will close for two, one of which will cover the half-term Halloween break. Schools will reopen on Monday 2nd November, it was announced today.

The tighter restrictions do not amount to a full scale lockdown similar to that imposed during the first wave of the virus, but the measures nevertheless mark a significant ramping up of the response to spiralling infection rates.

Shops will remain open but 'close contact' facilities like nail bars, will have to close.

First Minister Arlene Foster said rising figures were of "grave concern".

"We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people," she said.

"The Executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail. We do not take this step lightly."

"First, on the Covid transmission rates which must be turned down now, or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed," she said.

"Second, we believe it marks a point where everyone, each and every one of us, can take stock and go back to the social distancing messaging. That is vitally important," she said.

Read more: Scientists say circuit breaker lockdown would save thousands of lives

THE MEASURES IN FULL:

• Maintenance of current household restrictions. This means a continuation of the restriction on meeting indoors, and a limit on the number who can meet in a garden. There are existing exemptions for child care and maintenance etc which would stay in place. However, as close contact economy is proposed for closure, it would be consistent with that to prohibit the provision of those services (eg hairdressing) in a domestic setting;

• Bubbling to be limited to a maximum of 10 people from 2 households;

• No overnight stays in a private home unless in a bubble;

• Work from home unless unable to do so;

• In guidance, we will advise 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;

• Closure of the hospitality sector apart from deliveries and take aways for food, with the existing closing time of 11pm remaining. Other take away premises will then be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11pm;

• Retail will stay open. However, there will be urgent engagement with the sector to ensure that retail is doing everything it can to help suppress the virus;

• Closure of close contact services apart from those meeting essential health needs which will be defined in the Regulations to ensure continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics. This will not include complimentary treatments;

• 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;

• Places of worship to 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 partnership;

• 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 may remain open for this purpose this weekend but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership and this will be limited to 25;

• Funerals and committals to be limited to 25 people with no pre- or post-funeral gatherings;

• In guidance, no unnecessary travel will be advised;

• Off licenses and supermarkets will not be permitted to sell alcohol after 8pm;

• We believe the above restrictions should apply for four weeks, and the continuation or amendment of any element would require Executive approval;

• In Education, the half term holiday break will be extended from 19th to 30th October with schools reopening on Monday 2nd November.

Northern Ireland is facing four weeks of tougher covid restrictions
Northern Ireland is facing four weeks of tougher covid restrictions. Picture: PA

Churches will also reopen open. It is understood a 25-person limit will be placed on funerals and weddings.

The restrictions were agreed after a meeting of the Stormont executive that extended past midnight and into Wednesday morning.

A formal announcement is expected to be made during a special sitting of the Assembly in Belfast later on Wednesday.

It is expected that most sporting activities will be limited to elite athletes for the four weeks.

It is understood off licences will be required to shut at 8pm

The current restrictions on household mixing are expected to remain as they are.

That would means no mixing of households in private dwellings, with exceptions including those joined in social bubbles, and gatherings in the gardens of private dwellings limited to six people from no more than two households.

It is anticipated that closures of hospitality outlets will come into force on Friday October 16. The other measures would be rolled out from Monday October 19.

After the late night executive meeting concluded, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "The Exec has given painstaking consideration to next steps.

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

Earlier, during a break from the at times strained discussions, First Minister Arlene Foster vowed to "stand by" any businesses and individuals impacted by any new measures.

The DUP leader, who will make the announcement in the Assembly, insisted it was not an option to "close the country down".

"For those who will be impacted by any restrictions that we agree, we will stand with you, and we will help you and financially support you as best we can," she said.

Mrs Foster said it was "critical" that "long term" school closures were avoided.

A further seven deaths with Covid-19 and another 863 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Tuesday.

Some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 21,898.

As of Tuesday, there were 150 patients in hospitals with Covid-19, including 23 in intensive care.

The Derry and Strabane Council area has been experiencing the highest infection rate in the UK and Ireland, with a seven day average of 970 cases per 100,000 people.

The area is already subject to additional localised restrictions.