Northern Ireland is to impose the strictest COVID-19 restrictions seen in the United Kingdom since early summer, closing schools for two weeks and shuttering restaurants for four, First Minister Arlene Foster told regional lawmakers on Wednesday.
The British-run region has become one of Europe’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots in recent weeks. Its health minister described the situation last Friday as becoming more grave by the hour and said further constraints were likely.
“The numbers have continued to rise, the doubling rate is of grave concern, and hospitalisations are on the increase,” Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said in a joint letter to regional lawmakers detailing the new restrictions.
“This is deeply troubling and more steps are now urgently needed.”
The closure will affect the entire hospitality sector, with the exception of takeaway and delivery services, and double the length of the annual October school break from one week to two.
Under the measures, retail will remain open, but “close contact services” will be closed. People will be advised to avoid all unnecessary travel and work from home, while universities will be asked to teach remotely to the maximum extent.
Earlier, Work and Pensions Minister Thérèse Coffey said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not yet heading towards a full national lockdown in England despite calls from the opposition leader for a “circuit breaker” lockdown.
“I do not believe that the prime minister wants to set off on a national lockdown, but as ever he is advised by scientists – he takes that decision,” Coffey told Sky.
Asked if England was heading for a national lockdown in the next two weeks, Coffey said: “I don’t believe that is the case but as I say this will continue to be a decision that the prime minister will lead on.”
Coffey said the three-tier system of lockdowns announced on Monday should be given a chance to work.