Northern Ireland faces tough new lockdown measures from Friday

The new restrictions will cover two weeks from November 27 until December 11.

The Executive has agreed much tougher Covid-19 restrictions that will come into place on November 27th for two weeks.

All hospitality, close contact services, non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment facilities, and churches will have to close during that period.

Government advice will be to stay at home and there will also be a strict work from home message.

Schools and child care centres can remain open and universities will practice distanced learning.

The announcement was made the night before cafes and close contact services across Northern Ireland prepared to reopen last week.

Close-contact services and cafes reopened last Friday as planned, but they will have to close again at the end of the week.

Pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed throughout.

Takeaway hospitality services will be allowed.

The Stormont Executive also decided sporting events will only be allowed for elite athletes, with no spectators.

Rules around household gatherings will be unchanged.

Ministers are expected to develop a financial support package in the coming days.

The full list of measures agreed by the Executive:

  • Closure of all retail except essential retail that was permitted to stay open in the Spring.

  • Off licences will remain open, with an 8pm closing.

  • Closure of close contact services, and driving instruction (not motorcycles), except close contact for Film and TV production; those ancillary to medical, health and social care services; and elite-sports therapeutic services.

  • Closure of all hospitality (except for accommodation for essential travel).  Takeaway and delivery, and food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals remain open.

  • Closure of all leisure and entertainment (to include all soft play areas, gyms, swimming pools etc).

  • Sporting events only permitted for elite sports.  Individual/household outdoor exercise and school PE to continue.

  • Elite sports events behind closed doors without spectators.

  • No household gatherings of more than one household, other than current arrangements for linked households (bubbles), with current exceptions for caring, maintenance, house moves, etc.

  • Closure of places of worship, except for weddings, civil partnerships and funerals.  Remain with 25 max for weddings and funerals.

  • Stay at home, work from home if at all possible, otherwise only leave for essential purposes such as education, healthcare needs, to care for others or outdoor exercise.

  • Schools and childcare to remain open.

  • Universities / Further Education to provide learning at distance except where it is essential to provide it face to face.

  • Public parks and outdoor play areas remain open.

The list of businesses that can remain open during the two week lockdown can be found here.

Ministers were told on Thursday that the R number was sitting at around 1, and that while the current restrictions have had some positive impact, hospital inpatients numbers are still at a higher level than the first wave and are declining slowly.First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The Executive has been presented today with the sobering prospect of our hospitals becoming overwhelmed within weeks.“It is clear that a tough, carefully timed, intervention is required to give us the best chance to have a safe and happy Christmas and further into the new year period.“We all need to work together to save our hospitals, to save Christmas, to save lives.”

Ministers had been told two weeks of further coronavirus restrictions were needed before Christmas in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

The Health minister, Robin Swann, warned colleagues if no new measures are introduced by the end of November even a full lockdown in mid-December would not be enough to prevent the health service being swamped by Covid-19 cases.

Proposals in a paper circulated by Mr Swann said restrictions beginning on November 27 appeared to be the most effective option in reducing virus transmission.

Top health officials said it is highly likely any relaxations over the next two weeks will result in the virus' reproductive rate rising well above one, with a subsequent increase in hospital intensive care admissions in December.

Mr Swann's department believes a two-week period of restriction starting on November 27 will offer the best prospect of avoiding the need for further intervention before January.

Mr Swann also asked fellow ministers to consider local travel restrictions which were legally enforceable.

So far they have only advised against "unnecessary travel".

Speaking after the announcement Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, said: “65,000 people in the hospitality industry are now looking to the Executive tonight to save their jobs and livelihoods.

“All trust in the Executive by the hospitality sector has been wiped away. We were told that Christmas trading would be saved, that is now gone. There is a huge amount of anger right across the hospitality industry.

"We have been left with left with no trade, no hope and a huge amount of redundancies on our hands.”

Reacting to the announcement Aodhán Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said it is a huge blow to retailers, adding: "The closure of non-essential retail during what is our golden quarter is a huge blow to retailers already feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs.

"The retail industry has invested well over £10 million in Northern Ireland to make stores safe and SAGE’s advice is that the impact on covid transmission of closing ‘non-essential’ retail is low."

He however acknowledged the decision had been made been in order to restrict activity and movement by members of the public adding: "We recognise retail has a part to play in that and we accept that ‘non-essential’ retail has to close for a short period.”

Businesses which can remain open include:

  • Food retailers (food markets, supermarkets, convenience stores and corner shops)

  • Off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol (including breweries)

  • Pharmacies (including non-dispensing pharmacies) and chemists

  • Newsagents

  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores

  • Petrol stations

  • Motor vehicle repair and MOT services

  • Bicycle shops

  • Taxi or vehicle hire businesses

  • Banks, building societies, credit unions, short term loan providers and cash points savings clubs and undertakings which by way of business operate currency exchange offices, transmit money (or any representation of money) by any means or cash cheques which are made payable to customers.

  • Post offices

  • Funeral directors

  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners

  • Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services, including services relating to mental health

  • Veterinary surgeons and pet shops

  • Agricultural supplies shops

  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off or collection points, where the facilities are in the premises of a business included in this list

  • Car parks

  • Public toilets

  • Garden centres and ornamental plant nurseries (but not cafes or restaurants in such premises)

  • Livestock markets.

On Thursday the Department of Health revealed another 487 people tested positive for Covid-19.

Another 12 deaths were reported.

A total of 3,401 cases have been diagnosed over the last seven days.