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Restrictions across NI introduced as Covid cases increase

First Minister says intervention was required but rules out imposing a second lockdown

First Minister Arlene Foster has ruled out a return to a full lockdown in Northern Ireland - but warned people to comply with a new region-wide ban on households mixing indoors.

The tighter restrictions were announced yesterday following an urgent Executive meeting in response to the growing resurgence of Covid-19.

From 6pm this evening, households will be banned from mixing indoors except for single-person household bubbles and certain other exemptions, such as those with childcare requirements. No more than six people from two households can meet in private gardens.

Previously the limitations were applied to specific postcodes and the Belfast, Ballymena and Markethill areas.

It comes after a weekend which saw nearly 400 new cases confirmed on Saturday and Sunday.

Two more virus-linked deaths were announced yesterday.

Stormont's chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Young said: "The virus is everywhere and will spread everywhere, and hence our advice is that generalised restrictions are required.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out steps to tackle a second wave of coronavirus tonight.

He will announce that pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be forced to close by 10pm from Thursday.

Mr Johnson will address the UK this evening to outline new measures to tackle the sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

As well as the curfew, the hospitality sector will be restricted by law to table service only.

Mr Johnson will chair meetings of Cabinet and the Cobra emergency committee - including the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - ahead of a live address at 8pm.

In other developments:

  • Two more patients at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry have died with Covid-19. It brings the total number to die as a result of an outbreak in the hospital's male medical ward to five.
  • Another 125 new positive Covid-19 cases were confirmed in Northern Ireland. Thirty-three people are currently in hospital, with five in intensive care.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, 188 new cases were reported. No deaths were recorded there.
  • The Government's chief scientific adviser warned that the UK could see 50,000 Covid-19 cases a day by mid-October and a daily death toll of 200 or more a month later unless urgent action is taken.
  • The UK's four chief medical officers recommended raising the Covid alert level from three to four - the second highest - indicating the "epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially".

Yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was at a "tipping point" and "we're working right now on what further measures may be necessary".

Speaking at the Stormont press conference, Mrs Foster said "substantial" increases in virus cases have happened across Northern Ireland.

She ruled out imposing a second full lockdown, but warned that intervention is required.

"This is not returning to lockdown," she said. "Doing nothing was not an option but neither is returning to full lockdown."

She continued: "The restriction on domestic settings is a proportionate measure at this time - the risk of the virus spreading is greater in unregulated environments where people mix more freely with each other.

"It is in an environment where we feel safe and relaxed that we drop our guard. The mixing of households indoors provides one of the best opportunities for the spread of the virus."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said people were "fed up and tired" with Covid, but it posed a real threat and they had the opportunity to prevent an even more challenging situation this winter.

She said: "Covid-19 has been allowed to get a foothold in our community and we need to take action now.

"This is a fightback - the months ahead will be difficult."

Prof Young revealed the R rate is currently 1.4 and in some council areas it is above two.

"We believe this is a proportionate response to the increased number of cases, focusing on the settings where most cases seem to be acquired at present," he said.

The extended household ban will come into effect less than 24 hours before 'wet' bars - licensed premises which do not serve food - reopen.

Questions have been raised about the move, given households can meet in pubs instead of their homes.

However, Prof Young said it had been possible to put in place safety measures at hospitality outlets which did not exist in private homes.

Belfast Telegraph