Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: ‘Deeply worrying’ rise in cases sees Northern Ireland introduce local restrictions

Northern Ireland has introduced localised coronavirus restrictions in a number of areas following a “deeply worrying acceleration” in the number of cases.

Different households are being banned from meeting in each other’s houses in Belfast and surrounding areas, as well as the town of Ballymena.

From now on, the mixing of households in private dwellings is no longer allowed – apart from those who have formed a “bubble” with another household and those with caring or childcare responsibilities.

In addition, no more than six people – from no more than two households – will be able to gather in private gardens, while residents are being urged to avoid unnecessary travel outside the local areas.

Care homes and hospitals in the affected areas are being advised to significantly curtail visits as soon as practicable, with one member of a family to be permitted to visit once a week.

However, more frequent visits could be permitted for those patients receiving palliative or end of life care.

As well as applying to the Belfast City Council area and Ballymena, the new restrictions have also been introduced in postcode areas BT28, BT29 and BT43.

The Northern Ireland Executive said the restrictions are being applied in postcodes which have levels of COVID-19 cases at or above those where local restrictions have been imposed in other parts of the UK or Ireland.

The restrictions will be in place for a minimum of two weeks before being reviewed.

The Executive said it would introduce regulations next week to make some of the restrictions legally enforceable.

It also warned other postcodes may be added as infection rates change and, while it had the option of introducing the restrictions across the whole of Northern Ireland, there is a “marked variation” between case levels in different areas.

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Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We have seen a progressive rise in COVID-19 cases in Northern Ireland since early July, and recently there has been a further and deeply worrying acceleration.

“We know only too well the damage this virus can do, particularly to vulnerable people in our community.

“Doing nothing in the current circumstances would be indefensible.

“I recognise the anxiety these measures may cause in the affected districts.

“We will work closely with our local government partners to ensure these areas get all the support they need to get their COVID-19 rates down and the restrictions lifted.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is about protecting our citizens and saving lives.

“The increase in COVID-19 cases in our community in recent weeks should be a wake-up call to everyone.”

The Executive is planning to reopen soft play areas on Monday and wet pubs – those that don’t serve food – on 21 September.

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