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Christmas restrictions, closing pubs and schools to be discussed by NI Executive

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First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann.

First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann.

Michael Gove met with regional leaders to discuss Christmas rules

Michael Gove met with regional leaders to discuss Christmas rules

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First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann.

Health Minister Robin Swann is to present Stormont ministers with a paper tonight proposing post-Christmas restrictions.

The document will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of the Executive.

It is understood that Mr Swann will make recommendations on whether it is safe for hospitality and non-essential retail to remain open.

The Health Minister is likely to address the risks involved in New Year's Eve parties. The issue of schools reopening in January is also expected to be raised.

It is believed that the paper will not address the easing of restrictions from December 23 to 27. The rules up to three households to mix.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill are discussing that move with Michael Gove and the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton pressed Mr Swann around additional restrictions over Christmas in the Assembly yesterday.

Mr Swann said the infection rate was slightly increasing and the number of hospital inpatients had not decreased at all.

Saying the numbers remained too high, he added: "I will be bringing a paper to the Executive on Thursday with a number of recommendations.

"I'll make those recommendations to the Executive so that the discussion can be had there."

Urgent talks between UK leaders on the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will resume today amid increasing pressure to halt the plans over concerns of a fresh rise in cases.

Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove discussed the scheduled relaxation of regulations with the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland yesterday, but they did not confirm a new position.

A source in the UK Government said there were no plans to change the number of days or households allowed to mix in England, with leaders trying to agree on new safety warnings for Christmas.

Following the meeting, a spokeswoman for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister said: "Following this evening's call with counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, ministers will discuss the current situation with medical and scientific advisers.

"It is expected that an update will be brought to the Executive on Thursday."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier argued there that there was a case for reducing the planned freedoms to combat a rise in infections, and indicated she could break with the four-nation approach.

But her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford said the current plans were a "hard-won agreement" and he would "not lightly put them aside" ahead of the next meeting.

Downing Street conceded that the planned five-day Christmas easing to allow three households to mix indoors between December 23 and 27 was being kept "under constant review".

Meanwhile, Mr Swann also revealed that more than 4,000 people in Northern Ireland had received the coronavirus vaccine to date.

Giving an update on the roll-out of the vaccination programme, the Health Minister said vaccination teams had been to up to 54 care homes across all five trust areas.

"We have started with those with the largest number of residents and that will be in the region of just shy of 4,000 individuals, including care home residents, care home workers and our vaccination teams themselves," he told MLAs.

"While the vaccine does provide a crucial tool in allowing visiting to take place, we have to make sure we not only get that first vaccine in place but follow up with the second vaccine.

"We would encourage residents and staff members to take up the offer that is there of a free vaccine delivered through the NHS."

Belfast Telegraph


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