Stormont confirms 'vitally important' new Covid-19 restrictions

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

Northern Ireland is to enter a period of intensified coronavirus restrictions after the Stormont executive announced closures of schools, pubs and restaurants.

Pubs and restaurants will close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries, while schools will close on Monday for two weeks, one of which will cover the half-term break.

The measures do not amount to a full-scale lockdown similar to that imposed during the first wave of the virus, but they mark a significant ramping up of the administration's response to spiralling infection rates.

  • No households meeting indoors and only up to six from two households in a garden.

  • No overnight stays in a private home unless in a bubble.

  • Work from home unless unable to do so.

  • Universities and further education advised 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.

  • Closure of the hospitality sector apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11pm remaining.

  • Other takeaway premises will then be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11pm.

  • Retail will stay open, with urgent engagement with the sector to ensure that retail is doing everything it can to help suppress the virus.

  • Closure of close contact services apart from those meeting essential health needs which will be defined in the regulations to ensure continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics. This will not include complementary treatments.

  • 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.

  • Places of worship to 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 partnership;

  • From Monday weddings and civil partnerships will be limited to 25 people with no receptions.

  • Venues providing the post-ceremony or partnership celebration may remain open for this purpose this weekend but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership and this will be limited to 25.

  • Funerals and committals to be limited to 25 people with no pre- or post-funeral gatherings.

  • No unnecessary travel will be advised.

  • Off-licences and supermarkets will not be permitted to sell alcohol after 8pm.

  • The above restrictions will apply for four weeks.

  • In education, the half-term holiday break will be extended from October 19-30 with schools reopening on Monday November 2.

First Minister Arlene Foster announced the restrictions at a special sitting of the Assembly on Wednesday.

She said the rising Covid-19 figures in Northern Ireland were of "grave concern".

"We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people," she told MLAs.

"The executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail. We do not take this step lightly."

Mrs Foster said the executive hoped the restrictions would have two impacts.

"First, on the Covid transmission rates which must be turned down now, or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed," she said.

"Second, we believe it marks a point where everyone, each and every one of us, can take stock and go back to the social distancing messaging. That is vitally important."

The restrictions were agreed after a stop-start meeting of the Stormont executive that extended past midnight and into Wednesday morning.

Mrs Foster insisted the restrictions would not last any longer than four weeks.

The current restrictions on household mixing are to remain. That means no mixing of households in private dwellings, with exceptions including those joined in social bubbles, and gatherings in the gardens of private dwellings limited to six people from no more than two households.

The majority of the measures will come into force on Friday.

A further seven deaths with Covid-19 and another 863 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Tuesday.

Some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 21,898.

As of Tuesday, there were 150 patients in hospitals with Covid-19, including 23 in intensive care.

The Derry and Strabane Council area has been experiencing the highest infection rate in the UK and Ireland, with a seven-day average of 970 cases per 100,000 people.

The area is already subject to additional localised restrictions.