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Northern Ireland coronavirus Q&A: The restrictions explained as Derry and Strabane rules introduced

Northern Ireland's political leaders have imposed wider restrictions for parts of Northern Ireland.

An alarming rise in cases in the north west region has led to new restrictions in the area with chief medical officer warning to "plan and prepare" for another lockdown.

While the new rules for Derry and Strabane do not come into force until Monday, October 5, the public have been urged to follow them immediately. They are to last two weeks and will then be reviewed.

First Minister Arlene Foster has warned those flouting the rules "enforcement is coming".

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

Derry and Strabane restrictions

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill announced a raft of new restrictions for the Derry and Strabane area on Thursday, October 1 in a bid to halt the surge in coronavirus cases in the region.

The new localised restrictions in Derry and Strabane include:

  • Limiting hospitality outlets to outdoor dining, takeaways and deliveries, while hotels can only provide services to residents and those who have booked weddings and funeral teas. Wet pubs can serve customers outdoors only;
  • No organised indoor gatherings should take place in community halls or other similar venues (with exemptions in place for weddings, funerals, services of worship in places of worship, workplaces where working from home is not possible, educational settings, childcare services);
  • Indoor sports is limited to individual training only and no exercise classes are allowed;
  • There can also be no indoor gatherings where people from different households are mixed;
  • Organised outdoor gatherings are limited to 15 people and no spectators can attend sporting or other events and all museums, galleries and cultural attractions must close. Libraries can operate a call and collect service;
  • People are being asked to work from home where possible and to avoid any unnecessary travel, while people outside the area should not visit or travel for "unnecessary reasons".
  • These restrictions will last for at least two weeks and will be reviewed weekly by the Executive.

Northern Ireland-wide restrictions

Meeting indoors

Households are no longer allowed to mix indoors in private homes. Children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between homes as normal.

Exemptions for meeting indoors

  • You can bubble with another household. A bubble is defined as another household with whom you have close physical contact.
  • Caring responsibilities, including childcare.

  • Building or maintenance work.
  • Supported living arrangements.
  • Visits for legal or medical purposes.
  • Operating a business from home.
  • A funeral.
  • A house move.
  • A marriage or civil partnership ceremony in a private dwelling where one partner is terminally ill.

Meeting outdoors in private gardens

Up to six people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden, but social distancing must be maintained. Children aged 12 and under from those two households are discounted from this total.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings

The Executive is advising the public to avoid visiting places where there is a chance that a large number of people will gather.

Gatherings indoors or outdoors, not in a private dwelling, of up to 15 people are allowed.

However, this does not apply to gatherings of a particular nature - these include for cultural, entertainment, recreational, outdoors sports, social, community, educational, work, legal, religious or political purposes, which will have their own guidelines to follow.

Also indoor sporting events, providing the arena which it takes place is not capable of accommodating more than 5,000 spectators, will also have specific rules to follow.

For these exemptions, the organiser of the event must have carried out a risk assessment and take measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

Essential maintenance

Workers, builders and trades people can continue to go into people's houses to carry out work such as repairs, installations and deliveries.

Clarifying the position, First Minister Arlene Foster said: "If you are a tutor or a music teacher at home, your work can still continue.

"If you are a childcare provider, your work can still continue. If you are trades person, you can still visit homes to provide your service.

"If you’re a hairdresser or beautician working from your home or going to other homes, your work can still go on."

People who run a business from their home can continue to carry out their work with appropriate safety measures in place. The Executive advises that any visits should be risk-assessed and in line with relevant guidance.

Support bubbles

Many members of the public have questioned why people can congregate in pubs when you can't visit family members in their homes.

Arlene Foster said the advice the Executive has is that the virus is mostly spreading in household settings and that is why the Executive is intervening with restrictions for homes.

The first minister said that by bubbling with another household, members of the public are able to visit their parents, for example.

She added: "I have seen all the commentary about how you can go and meet your mother in the pub but you can't meet her in your own home. That is not strictly true.

"The regulations that are coming in allow two households to bubble together. We had said that it was a single household. So for example, my own mother, who lives on her own, can bubble up with my household but we are now saying in the regulations that it is two households that can come together."

Previously, a bubble allowed single adults living alone - or single parents whose children are under 18 - to form a support bubble with one other household.

However, the changes mean that two full households can now form a bubble.

Pubs, restaurants and weddings

No more than six people from two households in NI are allowed to sit at the same table in a pub or restaurant. Children are not counted within a party of six, but must be from either of the two households - this is the only circumstances in which tables of larger than six are permitted.

This is despite the Executive previously saying that up to six people from any number of households would be allowed to sit together at a table.

The rules on table limits apply to both indoor and outdoor tables.

However, the legislation, which has now been published, goes further than what the Executive initially announced.

It was reported the Executive considered the measures when it held an emergency meeting on Monday, September 21 and agreed to add them to the laws regulating Northern Ireland's hospitality industry.

Live music in venues is also now banned under the legislation. DJs are also not permitted.

Names and telephone numbers must be collected for contact tracing.

From Thursday October 1 pubs, restaurants and hospitality settings that are subject to the current regulations will be required to close 11pm. No alcohol or food will be served after 10.30pm.

The restrictions apply to all venues where the sale and/or consumption of alcohol takes place, even if there is a free bar available. Events such as weddings will also be required to comply.

Students

One ambiguity, possibly unique to Northern Ireland, is that many students live in Belfast and Coleraine during the week and return home to see their families at the weekend. This means that students could be bringing the virus from one part of Northern Ireland to another.

At the moment, there is no guidance for students on this.

There is a concern that areas where a large number of students are living could be a source of spreading the infection.

The PSNI has issued scores of Covid notices and prohibition notices in the Holyland and Stranmillis areas in the days after new laws were introduced to crack down on house parties, however police say that the majority of offending young people were not actually students.

The Executive has pledged to take a tougher line on those breaches the restrictions.

While the authorities are currently allowing students to continue to travel home at weekends to see family and friends, Arlene Foster cautioned that this could change if the infection rates continue to increase.

"We're engaging very heavily with the universities because we're very much aware of the fact that young people are now back into that sort of a setting," she said.

"Obviously, we are curbing their restrictions by saying that they should stay within their household bubbles."

Asked whether students should be able to continue to go home at weekends, the DUP leader said: "Obviously, that's something that we're considering at this present moment in time.

"We're not saying that people shouldn't go home at the weekend at present.

"And we hope that we don't have to move to that stage, but we may have to if the virus continues to spread in Belfast and indeed in other parts of Northern Ireland where students are residing."

Visits to hospitals and care homes

All health and social care facilities in Northern Ireland will only facilitate one face-to-face visit per week by one person, Health Minister Robin Swann has stated.

The province-wide guidance applies to hospital and care homes as well as other facilities.

Health Trusts and care homes will implement more localised and tighter restrictions in the event of outbreaks.

The visiting guidance will be kept under ongoing review.

Every effort should continue to be made to enable other forms of visiting to ensure residents and patients maintain important social connections – e.g. through the use of technology.

Additional advice on compassionate visits – for instance for those receiving end of life and palliative care – should be facilitated. These arrangements will have to be agreed in advance with the ward or care home.

In hospices, one visitor for one hour daily is recommended where the environment is Covid-19 secure.

In maternity services, one partner will be able to accompany the pregnant woman to dating scan, anomaly scan, early pregnancy clinic, fetal medicine appointments and when the woman is in active labour (to be defined by midwife). Visits in antenatal and postnatal wards will be for one person for up to one hour once a week.

In augmented care areas of burns, renal and cancer services, this should be permitted in Covid-19 secure environments. This means maintaining social distance of up to 2m, attending to hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene, good ventilation and appropriate use of PPE and wearing face covering.

Further specific provisions in areas like neonatal and paediatrics are detailed in the new visiting guidance document and supporting materials.

Care homes are encouraged to develop the concept of care partners. Care partners will need to be designated and agree to a number of measures, which may be specific to the individual care home and its visiting policy. There may be two designated care partners sharing this role, one at a time, across the week.

Education

Higher and further education, schools and early learning/childcare settings are not affected.

The 'circuit breaker'

Arlene Foster said the idea of a "circuit breaker", thought to be a second total lockdown for a shorter period of time, was "in the mix".

However, she added: "I believe that if we work together we will not need to go into a situation that we were in before".

Enforcement

The PSNI can issued fixed penalty notices of £60, and for subsequent offences the fixed penalty will double each time up to a maximum of £960. If court proceedings are taken, a fine of up to £5,000 can be issued.

Belfast Telegraph