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Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Tough 'circuit-breaker' restrictions as Belfast Nightingale facility set to become fully operational

  • It's vital to "break the chain" of transmission, says Arlene Foster as tough restrictions announced for whole of NI
  • Hospitality, hairdressers, beauticians to bear brunt of four-week circuit-breaker, while Halloween break extended for schools
  • Executive pledges to work on support package for businesses
  • Department of Health death toll rises to 602 after four Covid patients die
  • Record 1,217 cases in last 24 hours as total number of infections in NI since outbreak hits 23,115
  • Scroll down to follow Wednesday's updates

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital is to become the Covid regional centre for the whole of Northern Ireland, as the toughest restrictions imposed anywhere in the UK since the end of lockdown were agreed by the Executive and will come into force on Friday.

Speaking at a Stormont press conference, Mr Swann said the decision had been made on Wednesday afternoon following "rapidly escalating pressures across the five health trusts".

Mr Swann added that he recognised that the new restrictions on businesses announced earlier on Wednesday will leave many questions and fears among the public.

"My heart goes out to all those businesses who will now come under even more pressure and to all those people whose lives and plans have been thrown up into the air," he said.

"But we as an executive, I believe, have to support all those in distress - all those struggling as a result of this pandemic and the measures that we unanimously and collectively introduced to fight it."

On Wednesday morning, First Minister Arlene Foster outlined the Executive's decisions to the Assembly on a series of tougher new measures to stem the spread of coronavirus.

However, the Belfast Chamber of Commerce branded the new restrictions an "economy-breaker" not a "circuit-breaker" and Hospitality Ulster said it could be the "end game" for pubs and restaurants.

Schools are to shut for an extended Halloween break from Monday, October 19 and pubs and restaurants will close from Friday, October 16 for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Businesses in the close contact service sector, like hairdressers, barbers and beauticians, are also impacted by the measures.

It comes after a further four people in Northern Ireland have died after testing positive for Covid-19 and a record 1,217 new cases have been reported in the last 24 hours.

It brings the death toll in the region to 602 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 23,115. Some 6,693 people have tested positive in the last seven days alone.

Two of the fatalities happened on Monday, while the two other deaths occurred on Tuesday.

The deaths were two women and two men, all aged over 60, who passed away in hospitals in the Fermanagh and Omagh, Newry, Mourne and Down, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon and Mid and East Antrim areas, respectively.

There are currently 164 Covid patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland, with 24 patients in intensive care and 17 being ventilated.

A total of 56 care homes are dealing with outbreaks of the virus.

Here's how Wednesday unfolded:

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