NI enters two-week circuit breaker lockdown

The measures came into effect at 11.59pm on Thursday and are 'similar to what we had back in March', according to the CMO. Credit: Presseye

A two-week circuit breaker lockdown is now in place across Northern Ireland in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

People are being urged to stay at home under the new, stricter measures - while all non-essential retail and most of the hospitality sector is closed.

Schools and childcare will remain open, and churches can remain open for individual prayer.

There can be no household gatherings of more than one household - other than support bubbles and with some exceptions - and people are asked to work from home if possible.

Otherwise they are asked to only leave for essential purposes such as education, healthcare needs, to care for others or for outdoor exercise.

A controlled ‘click and collect’ service for retail can operate on an appointment-only basis with maximum mitigations in place.

“We need everyone to stay at home as much as possible because that’s how we’re going to stop the virus spreading," said Health Minister Robin Swann.

"By staying at home and limiting our contacts, we will protect ourselves, our families and the health service, and crucially, we’ll help to save lives."

Ministers agreed last week to introduce the circuit breaker after modelling indicated it offered a greater likelihood of avoiding further restrictions before Christmas.

The Executive has published an information page with questions and answers on the new restrictions.

Speaking at Stormont on Thursday, the First Minister said the circuit breaker is necessary to drive down the rate of infection.

"This is just for a short while longer,” said Arlene Foster.

"It is important to have hope and it is important that we push a little harder over the course of the next couple of weeks."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This two-week circuit breaker is our best chance to get on top of the virus ahead of the Christmas period.

“We know it won’t be easy over the next two weeks for many people, but it’s vital that everyone continues to do what they can to break the chain of transmission."

The circuit breaker is expected to last until 11 December.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “The next two weeks will give us the opportunity and the space to really tackle this virus and push the rate of transmission down hard.

"These restrictions will be similar to what we had back in March and I am very aware of the impact this may have in terms of mental and physical health.

“But if we do this now, if we fight this virus with everything we have, then we have a chance of getting through Christmas in a better place than we are now.

"I would urge everyone to unite in this phase of our fight against the virus."

During the Christmas holidays, the Executive says it intends to enable up to three households to form an exclusive bubble between 23 and 27 December. 

In its latest update, the Health Department confirmed a further eight people have died and 442 new positive cases of Covid-19 have been recorded.