Executive defends lockdown move in Northern Ireland

The First and deputy First Minister have defended the strict new coronavirus lockdown measures for Northern Ireland.

It follows a furious backlash from business leaders who say trust in the Executive “is now at rock bottom”.

The restrictions agreed by the Executive late on Thursday are more severe than proposals that were vetoed by the DUP last week, prompting rivals to accuse the party of a U-turn.

First Minister Arlene Foster justified her party's change in stance, insisting it had responded to worsening medical and scientific evidence and a rise in the R number to above one.

"Of course that causes us concern in terms of the transmission of the virus," the DUP leader said.

"The numbers are staying pretty static in relation to positive cases at present but when we look at our hospital numbers they are at their highest they have been, even when we look back to the first peak back in March/April time, the numbers in our hospitals reached I think around 350, now they're at 450.

  • The First Minister, deputy First Minister and health minister give their reaction:

“Our health service staff are very tired, we understand that. So there was a need to put in these interventions.

"Certainly none of us wanted to do this. We realise the impact it will have, but it was necessary unfortunately to protect our health service for everybody else."

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister said she raised concerns with Health Minister Robin Swann that businesses could open on Friday before having to close again next week.

The fact those businesses, and non-essential retailers, will be open next week before having to close has led to fears of a rush of shoppers.

"I believe that it is contradictory in a sense because you are telling the public, and rightly so, that they are in a very difficult position and health care workers and our health system is under huge pressure, and we need to intervene, but at the same time you're allowing businesses to open this morning," said Ms O'Neill.

"I put that to the health minister, very bluntly, very clearly, and was told they were content that this was OK, that this was factored into the modelling which they had brought in front of us."

She added: "We had to take these difficult decisions but it came on the back of strong medical and scientific advice, and was necessary.

"So, I can say in terms of the anger that is felt by businesses, we share the concern, we share all that concern, we understand how difficult this is, how challenging this is."