Northern Ireland will go into six week lockdown on Boxing Day

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill speaking after the announcement on Thursday evening:

The Executive has agreed to go into a six week lockdown that will begin on Boxing Day.

Ministers met on Thursday amid growing concern about the rise of coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland.

The Health minister said the restrictions will come into effect from midnight on Christmas Day, taking effect on the 26th.

Robin Swann said: "The Executive has probably taken its hardest decision, its most deep decision, in regards to how we have had to combat Covid-19 collectively.

"We will be looking to a six week lock down where the message will be work from home, stay at home."

The agreed measures include:

  • Non-essential retail will close, including garden centres, click and collect services, and homeware

  • All hospitality will close, except deliveries and takeaway (Hotels will be able to remain open until 28th December to accommodate Christmas bookings)

  • Close contact services eg. hairdressers, beauticians etc will close

  • All essential businesses that will be allowed to open must close at 8pm for the first week of lockdown

  • No household mixing, except in an emergency

  • People will be asked to stay at home from 8pm - 6am for the first week of the lockdown

  • No changes have made to the Christmas bubbling system, which runs from the 23rd to the 27th of December.

  • No outdoor mixing with other households

  • Outdoor exercise will only be permitted alone or with members of your household

  • Elite sport will be cancelled during the first week of lockdown

  • Religious services can continue depending on a risk assessment

  • Number at funerals and weddings limited to 25. Receptions are not allowed

Christmas bubbling arrangements are still permitted, however people are being asked to limit their contact with others.

Speaking after the announcement the deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill described the situation as "quite dire".

"It's very clear from the positive cases we're seeing every day that an urgent intervention was required," she said.

"This will be disappointing to many. I think a lot of people also would have expected it. It's very clear we needed an urgent intervention.

"I think this is the right decision by the Executive, albeit I accept that it will be challenging for many, many people.

Ms O'Neill added: "We tried to get a balance in all of these things but it's clear that we needed a longer and deeper intervention and I believe that's what's been arrived at this evening."

The measures are set to be reviewed after four weeks.

Ms O'Neill said financial support would be put in place for businesses affected by the lockdown.

"The current measures which we have had over previous restrictions will be rolled over to support businesses through this very challenging time."

Further announcements will be made by the Economy minister in the coming days.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster Colin Neil says the lockdown will sound the death knell for many businesses.

Mr Neil said: “The impact on the economy will run into the hundreds of millions, thousands of redundancies and a sector dead on its feet.

 “The hospitality industry can no longer withstand repeated closure and reopening under unsustainable restrictions and should be given additional support to cover furlough costs, rents etc and only reopened when it’s permanent and financially sustainable.”

Reacting to the announcement, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director Aodhán Connolly said it is vital that retail is able to trade at the end of the six weeks.

Mr Connolly said: We are asking government urgently to provide clarity about the criteria for reopening and to ensure that affected businesses are supported in the coming weeks.

Adding: "We also need shoppers to continue to act responsibly in the shopping days that are left until Christmas. Wear a face covering in store and when queueing, keep your distance, wash your hands, leave extra time for shopping, avoid peak times and most of all be kind to staff and other shoppers.”

Judith Hill spoke to retailers and restaurant owners as they waited for the announcement on Thursday:

Michelle O'Neill said the discussion about schools in ongoing.

"Schools were discussed and what was agreed is that schools would remain for now, but that health and education (departments) continue that conversation around things, for example, like blended learning and other things," she said.

"That conversation continues and I expect that both health and education will be able to say more about that over the course of the days ahead."

Health officials said a reduction in face-to-face school learning after Christmas would help to combat the spread of the disease.

It's understood the issue will be discussed by the Education and Health Ministers over the weekend and a decision, which could have huge implications for children due to sit the transfer test, will be taken early next week.

The Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer call for the public's co-operation:

Health chiefs have cited low compliance with the regulations and guidance as a reason infections, hospital admissions and death rates remain relatively high.

Hospitals across the region are running over capacity.

Earlier this week queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside the hospitals.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service announced on Thursday that paramedics from the Republic are set to bolster their numbers this weekend.

On Thursday, the Department of Health's dashboard revealed a further 12 people with Covid-19 had died in Northern Ireland.