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Northern Ireland coronavirus Q&A: Everything you need to know about new circuit-breaker lockdown


New coronavirus restrictions come into place on November 27  (Press Eye)

New coronavirus restrictions come into place on November 27 (Press Eye)

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

New coronavirus restrictions come into place on November 27 (Press Eye)

The Northern Ireland Executive is set to introduce another two-week circuit breaker to slow the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health service.

Many businesses, which were closed under a previous circuit break, reopened across Northern Ireland on Friday (November 20) morning but will have to close again next Friday (November 27), while other hospitality sectors like pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed throughout.

Under the latest plan to stop hospitals from becoming swamped as the number of infections hits worrying levels, non-essential retail and services like hairdressers, beauticians and driving lessons will have to shut.

Takeaway hospitality will be allowed but leisure and entertainment venues will be closed.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the “tough, carefully timed, intervention” is needed to give “the best chance to have a safe and happy Christmas and further into the new year period”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the scientific evidence presented to the Executive “paints a stark picture” of the situation we face.

Here’s everything you need to know about the current restrictions:

We’ve been here before — in March and April. Will we be here again in a few weeks?

Quite possibly. The thinking is to use the next two weeks to drive the R-rate — the virus’s transmission rate — down, to try and bring a more ‘normal’ Christmas.

But once restrictions are relaxed, the rate is likely to go up. And if gatherings are allowed at Christmas, which seems likely, it could lead to more restrictions being needed in January.

With January a quiet month for retail and hospitality, it is easy to see more restrictions in early 2021.

Which businesses are being forced to close?

Businesses must close including non-essential retail, gyms and swimming pools.

Close-contact services and cafes will also have to shut while pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed throughout.

Which businesses will stay open?

Takeaway and delivery, and food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals remain open.

Off licences will remain open, with an 8pm closing.

How long do the measures last?

The new restrictions will cover two weeks from November 27 until December 11.

Why are they needed?

The Executive has introduced another two-week circuit breaker to slow the spread of Covid-19 ahead of Christmas and protect the health service.

The R-rate - the rate of transmission of the virus - in Northern Ireland is currently sitting at “around one” which runs the risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed with Covid-19 within weeks.

What support is there for businesses impacted by the fresh closure order?

A financial support package is to be developed over next few days.

What is the advice around working from home?

Stay at home, work from home if possible and only leave home for essential purposes.

What about schools and colleges?

Schools and childcare facilities will remain open while universities and further education will provide learning at distance except where it is essential to provide it face to face.

What are the rules for places of worship, weddings and funerals?

Churches will close except for weddings, civil partnerships and funerals which are limited to 25 people.

What about sport, including sporting events?

No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level is permitted.

Individual/household outdoor exercise and school PE can continue while elite sports events will take place behind closed doors without spectators.

What about household visits?

No household gatherings of more than one household are permitted, other than current arrangements for bubbles with exceptions for caring, maintenance, house moves, etc.

Why are ministers taking action now?

Previous proposals were vetoed by the DUP last week, prompting rivals to accused the party of a major U-turn.

On Thursday, Health Minister Robin Swann returned with fresh proposals for even tougher restrictions to save hospitals from being overwhelmed.

This time the DUP joined the other parties in supporting the steps.

This all sounds very gloomy, is there any reason for hope?

Yes! Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said this week that spring could see Northern Ireland in a very different place.

There are also vaccines on the horizon. Health authorities here will receive 1.5m doses of the Pfizer jab, and 2.85m of the Oxford vaccine, subject to approval by regulators, meaning all of Northern Ireland could be vaccinated in the first roll-out.

Each individual must receive two doses, meaning up to 1.425m people here can be inoculated with the Oxford jab alone.

Meanwhile, 735,000 people could avail of the Pfizer vaccine, making the overall total 2.16m jabs when both are combined. The population of Northern Ireland is just under 1.9m.

Belfast Telegraph