NI Covid-19 restrictions to remain until ‘at least May’

Restrictions on movement will remain in place for Northern Ireland until at least May, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Only essential travel will continue to be permitted for at least another three weeks and people are urged to stay at home to limit the coronavirus spread.

“The Executive today has agreed that the restrictions and requirements set out in the regulations continue to be necessary if we are to continue to flatten the epidemic curve, manage the capacity of the health service, and keep Covid-19 deaths to a minimum,” Mr Swann said.

“There will be a further review which will inform how we progress and the position will be closely monitored.”

Mr Swann added: “The prospect of a second surge later this year must weigh heavily on all our minds. This is no time for final verdicts to be delivered, favourable or critical.

“We are in this for the long haul.

“We will also have to face up to difficult conversations down the line about when or if to ease any social distancing restrictions.

“That time is not now. At this moment in time, we have to stick firmly with the measures we have.”

Social distancing measures remain essential in the fight against Covid-19. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, the Health Minister has also defended the temporary sharing of protective equipment for health workers throughout the UK.

A quarter-of-a-million gowns have been sent from Northern Ireland to England over the last fortnight to help ease pressure on supplies there.

They will be immediately reimbursed once their own stocks arrive.

Mr Swann said: "But equally, when I recently reported a serious shortage of eye protective equipment, England and Wales acted quickly to help us.

"And, of course, we must remember all of this in the context that the UK government has already sent Northern Ireland over 5.6 million items of personal protective equipment.

“So I make no apologies for sharing our stock because, when we need some, the other UK nations are not reluctant to share theirs.

“That demonstrates the value and success of the four-nation approach we have been taking.”

Northern Ireland is said to have significantly increased its supplies from local sources.

The First and deputy First Ministers have also stressed the importance of continuing to follow the guidelines on social distancing and avoiding non-essential journeys.

Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland remains in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19 cases and is continuing to try to flatten the peak.

“There’s nothing more important at this time, it really is a matter of life and death,” she said.

Michelle O’Neill said keeping restrictions in place remains a necessity.

“We know it’s not easy, but this is the time to dig in, this is the time to stay strong, and this is the time to stay at home and save lives,” she said.

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