14/10/2020 10:47 BST | Updated 20/10/2020 16:13 BST

Northern Ireland Joins Scotland In Imposing 'Circuit Breaker' Lockdown

Schools will shut for two weeks while pubs and restaurants are to close for a month.

Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland will close to the public for four weeks as part of a month-long “circuit breaker” lockdown, first minister Arlene Foster has announced.

Schools will also shut for two weeks, extending the half-term Halloween break by a week in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Liam McBurney - PA Images via Getty Images
People walking along Ferryquay Street in Derry

Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to stay open for takeaways.

The measures do not amount to a full-scale lockdown like that imposed during the first wave of the virus, but they mark a significant ramping up of the administration’s response to spiralling infection rates.

Shops will stay open, as will gyms for individual training.

Churches will also remain open. It is understood a 25-person limit will be placed on funerals and weddings, but wedding receptions are prohibited.

People should work from home unless unable to do so, and are urged not to take unnecessary journeys.

Indoor sporting activities are not allowed and outdoor contact sports will be limited to elite athletes.

Off-licences will be required to shut at 8pm.

Foster announced the restrictions at a special sitting of the Assembly on Wednesday.

She said the rising Covid-19 figures in Northern Ireland were of “grave concern”.

“We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people,” she told MLAs.

“The executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail. We do not take this step lightly.”

Foster said the executive hoped the restrictions would have two impacts.

“First, on the Covid transmission rates, which must be turned down now, or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed,” she said.

“Second, we believe it marks a point where everyone, each and every one of us, can take stock and go back to the social distancing messaging. That is vitally important.”

The restrictions were agreed after a stop-start meeting of the Stormont executive that extended past midnight and into Wednesday morning.

Foster insisted the restrictions would not last any longer than four weeks.

The current restrictions on household mixing are to remain. That means no mixing of households in private dwellings, with exceptions including those joined in social bubbles, and gatherings in the gardens of private dwellings limited to six people from no more than two households.

The majority of the measures will come into force on Friday.

A further seven deaths with Covid-19 and another 863 cases were reported by the nation’s Department of Health on Tuesday.

Some 6,286 new positive cases of the virus have been detected in the last seven days, bringing the total number of cases in the region to 21,898.

As of Tuesday, there were 150 patients in hospitals with Covid-19, including 23 in intensive care.

The Derry and Strabane Council area has been experiencing the highest infection rate in the UK and Ireland, with a seven-day average of 970 cases per 100,000 people.

The area is already subject to additional localised restrictions.

Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary said: “The executive have taken decisive action to halt the frightening rise in cases in Northern Ireland.

“The prime minister now needs to honour the promise he made to communities across Northern Ireland, and urgently deliver the financial support he pledged. Businesses and workers must not lose out because of the sacrifices we all need to make to get this virus back under control, and protect our NHS.”

Last week, Scotland imposed a ban on pubs, restaurants and cafes from selling alcohol indoors until October 25. Indoor hospitality venues there will only be allowed to operate between 6am and 6pm.