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Local Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland now enforceable by law as questions remain over accuracy of map

Local Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland are now enforceable by law, but questions have been raised about the accuracy of a new interactive map.

Health Minister Robin Swann announced last week the restrictions would apply to households living in places such as the Belfast City Council area and in Ballymena town.

With many left unsure who the restrictions applied to exactly, an interactive map was published online.

But the DUP MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson, quickly questioned on Twitter why it “erroneously” included areas like Dundonald which had not previously been announced.

It comes as a further two coronavirus-related deaths were announced in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 573.

A further 129 positive cases have also been confirmed bringing the total to 8,631 and with a total of 4,953 individuals tested in the last 24 hours.

At a Stormont briefing, Mr Swann condemned recent scenes of young people partying in the Holylands area but said it did not represent most people.

A senior nurse from Ulster Hospital also appeared to warn the public that her colleagues were now expecting the worst winter in living memory.

The Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Ian Young, also said that Covid-related hospital admissions were now at their highest level since July.

Lead emergency department nurse, Roisin Devlin, said: “I know we’re all weary of Covid, and there are some who feel that this pandemic isn’t a big threat but never in my career have I seen colleagues so concerned about the incoming winter.”

She said hospitals were starting to see the rise in current cases translating into increased hospital admissions.

“There is no doubt as we progress into winter, when there are more respiratory cases, we will see an increased admission rate to an already pressured system.”

On the localised restrictions coming into force, Mr Swann said the rules were “not complicated” and were designed to limit contact between households and gatherings in private gardens.

He added that there should be no complacency in other parts of Northern Ireland as rates of infection could increase “rapidly and with catastrophic consequences” and that other postcodes would be included if required.

Mr Swann explained restrictions had not included businesses like pubs and restaurants as conditions there were strictly regulated unlike in private households.

Analysing the latest data, Professor Ian Young said that since last week the average number of new cases per day had remained steady at between 90-100.

He said testing level had also remained constant at around 20 tests per 1,000 population each day, which he said was “significantly higher” when compared to other UK regions and the Irish Republic.

Positive test rates are at 1.8%, meaning they have increased “substantially” since early July as have the average cases per day.

Comparing cases per day with UK and ROI, the gap has narrowed a little but remains significantly higher in NI at 60 cases per 100,000.

On the R rate, which measures the rate of transmission, he said it had risen over the last week to a figure of 1.2.

This was both for new cases and hospital admissions.

Professor Young said hospital admissions had risen over the last seven days along with a rise in Covid-positive patients which is now at the highest number since late June.

“It reflects the fact that a higher percentage of cases are being observed in the over 60s who are the greatest risk of severe illness.”

At present the localised restrictions are said to officially apply to the Belfast City Council area, Postcode area BT28 which includes Lisburn, BT29 which covers areas like Crumlin and Belfast International Airport, the town of Ballymena (with the map showing the specific areas affected) and BT43.

The regulations apply to everyone living in these areas, requiring no mixing of households in private dwellings.

Exemptions are in place for things like bubbling with one other household, caring responsibilities including childcare, building or maintenance work or the services of any trade or profession.

Also exempted are businesses operating from home, supported living arrangements, visits for legal or medical purposes, funerals, a house move, a marriage or a civil partnership where one partner is terminally ill.

No more than six people are permitted to gather in a private garden and they must not be from more than two households.

More detailed guidance on the restrictions has been published on the NI Direct website covering areas like hospital and care home visits, travel and for those who are medically vulnerable.

Belfast Telegraph