Schools to close amid tight new hospitality rules in Northern Ireland

SCHOOLS  will close from next Monday and pubs and restaurants will see new restrictions from Friday in a bid to stem cases of Covid-19, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

The moves are among new restrictions being imposed by the Executive, which were announced on Wednesday morning.

Hospitality businesses will be limited to takeaway and delivery services for four weeks from Friday.

Health officials had warned infections would rise further if both schools and hospitality premises remained open.

The executive has agreed schools will close for two weeks, including the half-term holiday, until Monday 2 November, when their closure will be reviewed.

Mrs Foster is outlining the changes in a statement to assembly members, which began at 10:30.

Further guidance is being issued advising against unnecessary travel, the BBC reports.

Talks ran into the early hours of Wednesday as ministers tried to reach a compromise on a range of decisions, finally agreeing to impose the following measures for four weeks from Friday:

Closure of the hospitality sector, apart from deliveries and takeaways
Other fast-food and takeaway premises to close at 23:00
Off-licences and supermarkets not to sell alcohol after 20:00
No indoor sport or organised contact sport involving mixing of households, other than at elite level
No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply);
Close-contact services – apart from those meeting essential health needs – to close
Mobile hairdressers and make-up artists – also classed as close contact services – prohibited from working in homes
Gyms to remain open for individual training but no classes permitted
Places of worship to remain open but face coverings mandatory when entering and exiting
The current restrictions on household mixing are expected to remain as they are.

That would mean no mixing of households in private homes – with exceptions including those joined in social bubbles – and gatherings in gardens limited to six people from no more than two households.

Mrs Foster said the executive had not taken the decisions lightly.

“We want this to have two impacts – reducing the Covid transmission rates, and secondly we believe it marks a point where each and every one of us takes stock and goes back to the original public health messaging,” she told the assembly.

“I don’t shy away from the fact that a lot of these decisions will have huge impacts – we’re very determined this will be a time-limited intervention.”

The first minister added that the executive will meet on Thursday to discuss bringing forward further support packages for businesses, who have expressed concerns about what closures will mean for jobs and viability.

On Tuesday, seven more coronavirus-related deaths were reported by Northern Ireland’s health department.

It also recorded another 863 cases of the virus, bringing Northern Ireland’s total to 21,898 – more than a quarter of which have been recorded in the past seven days.

In Derry City and Strabane, the UK’s worst-hit council area, the infection rate is 969 per 100,000 of the population in the past week.

Tighter restrictions have been in force there since 5 October, but the Western Trust has said hospital admissions are doubling every three to four days.

According to departmental data, there are 150 Covid inpatients in NI’s hospitals and 23 patients in intensive care, 15 of whom are being ventilated.

Meanwhile, a press release from Stormont said: ‘The Executive has today agreed a range of significant time-bound interventions to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

‘In addition to current household restrictions, the following measures will come into regulatory effect on Friday 16th October and will be in place for a period of four weeks:

‘Bubbling to be limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households;
No overnight stays in a private home unless in a bubble;
Closure of the hospitality sector apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11.00pm remaining.
Other takeaway premises will be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11.00pm;
Close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are not permitted to open, apart from those relating to the continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics.
No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level;
No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply);
Gyms may remain open but for individual training only with local enforcement in place;
Funerals to be limited to 25 people with no pre- or post-funeral gatherings;
Off licenses and supermarkets will not sell alcohol after 8.00pm;
Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships to be limited to 25 people with no receptions. This will be implemented on Monday 19 October. Venues providing the post-ceremony or partnership celebration this weekend may remain open for this purpose but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership party and this will be limited to 25;
‘And the following advice will be added to the existing health guidance:

‘Work from home unless unable to do so;
Universities and further education to deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible with only essential face to face learning where that is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course;
No unnecessary travel should be undertaken.
The half term holiday break for schools and colleges will be extended to a two-week break to run from 19th to 30th October.

Places of worship will remain open with a mandatory requirement to wear face coverings when entering and exiting. This will not apply to parties to a marriage or civil partnerships.

The retail sector will also stay open at this time. Further engagement is planned to ensure that the sector does everything it can to help suppress the virus.

The Executive will urgently engage with sectors and work on support for those affected as a matter of priority.’

First Minister Arlene Foster added: “We are facing the tough reality of rapidly rising rates of infection. There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19.

“The Executive has given careful and painstaking consideration of the right blend of actions that will do maximum damage to the virus but minimum harm to life chances today and tomorrow.

“We understand that these interventions will be hard but they will not be in place for a moment longer than they need to be. I would ask everyone to work with us to save lives and protect our health service.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The Executive has taken these very difficult decisions in response to the emergency situation we are faced with. The Coronavirus infection rate has reached crisis levels and our health service is in real danger of becoming overwhelmed.

“Urgent intervention is needed to interrupt the spread of the virus and prevent a worsening of the situation.

“These measures will be in place for four weeks, but they will only be effective if we have the support of public. We are appealing to everyone to do everything you can over these next few weeks to help keep everyone safe and save lives.

“We know this is hard and that people will be really worried about their livelihoods, but we will do everything we possibly can to make sure there are protections in place for families, workers and businesses.”

 

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