Coronavirus: Schools to close and tight new hospitality rulesDora Madaba
Coronavirus: Schools to close and tight new hospitality rules
Schools are to close from Monday and hospitality businesses will face tight new restrictions from Friday, BBC News NI understands.
The moves are among a number of restrictions expected to be announced in the assembly at 10:30 BST.
In a bid to stem cases of Covid-19, hospitality will be limited to takeaway and delivery only for four weeks.
Health officials had warned infections would rise further if both schools and hospitality premises remained open.
It is understood the executive has agreed that schools will close for two weeks, including the half-term holiday, until Monday 2 November, at which time a review of the impact of closure will occur.
Talks between ministers ran from Tuesday night into the early hours of Wednesday as they attempted to reach a compromise on a range of decisions.
It is understood ministers have agreed to the following measures to take effect from Friday for four weeks:
- Closure of the hospitality sector, apart from deliveries and takeaways
- Other fast-food and takeaway premises will have to close at 23:00
- Off-licences and supermarkets will be told not to sell alcohol after 20:00
- No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving mixing of households, other than at elite level
- Close contact services – apart from those meeting essential health needs – will have to close, but businesses will be defined under the regulations
- Mobile hairdressers and make-up artists – also classed as close contact services – will be prohibited from providing their services in people’s homes
- Gyms can remain open but only for individual training – no classes will be permitted
- Places of worship can remain open but face coverings will be mandatory when entering and exiting
The current restrictions on household mixing are expected to remain as they are.
Derry City and Strabane council area is the UK’s worst-hit area
That would mean 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.
On Tuesday seven more coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.
Another 863 cases of the virus were also reported by the department, bringing Northern Ireland’s total to 21,898 – more than a quarter of which have been recorded in the past seven days.
In the Derry City and Strabane council area, the UK’s worst-hit area, the Covid infection rate is 969 per 100,000 of the population in the past week.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had argued it was critical schools did not close for a longer period, while Sinn Féin said medical evidence proved further action was necessary.
It is understood the party wanted schools to close for four weeks.
Many schools will now only have to close for one extra week in addition to the one-week half-term break, although some schools normally take shorter half-term breaks.
The executive is also understood to have agreed to advise universities and further education colleges to deliver distance learning as much as possible.
White smoke emerged shortly after 00:30 – the tradition of late nights at Stormont making a return once more.
Ministers reconvened at 23:00 after tensions erupted in an earlier session, as the SDLP and Alliance pushed back for having been given what they deemed too short a window to scrutinise the proposals.
The nature of decision-making at Stormont sees five parties sharing power in a mandatory coalition. Over the course of the pandemic their views have at times differed greatly.
It appears the DUP and Sinn Féin reached a compromise over the timing of school closures – for now – and whether to apply hospitality measures across all of Northern Ireland.
Advice from health officials was that NI-wide restrictions had to be imposed no later than Friday.
On that recommendation, it seems the executive has listened but some will question why the parties laboured over getting a plan in place, given the urgency of the situation.
The reality is that these are seismic decisions: every step back into what resembles the original lockdown has ramifications across many facets of life in Northern Ireland.
Assembly members who returned to Stormont last night after whispers of a special sitting started doing the rounds were also left empty-handed.
They’ll get a chance to raise their concerns today when the executive formally announces its decisions in the chamber – ministers will face questions on their late-night wrangling, and why it appears they may have chosen to diverge from some of the original advice health officials put forward.
There are new restrictions coming into place for weddings and civil ceremonies.
It is understood that from Monday, weddings and civil partnerships will be limited to 25 people and “no receptions” will be permitted.
There will be exemptions from the wearing of face coverings for such ceremonies in places of worship.
Funerals will also be limited to 25 people, with no pre or post-funeral gatherings permitted.
It is believed further guidance will be issued advising against unnecessary travel.
It is understood ministers have agreed no additional restrictions will be placed on non-essential retail shops, but there will be “urgent engagement” with the sector to ensure it is taking all possible measures to prevent further spread of the virus.
‘Stand with you’
Speaking in a video on social media while the executive was adjourned in the early hours of Wednesday, First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said for those affected by further restrictions, the executive would “stand with you and will help you and financially support you as best we can”.
“Ministers are elected to decide and to make decisions, and one of the other issues that we feel very passionately about in the DUP is education and the life chances of our young people,” she added.
“Therefore it is critical that we do not have any long-term closures in our schools and that’s something that we feel very, very strongly about.”
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said the executive had given “painstaking consideration” to next steps.
“We know this is hard and that people will be worried about their livelihoods, but we will do everything we possibly can to make sure there are protections in place for businesses, workers and families,” she said.
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Coronavirus: Schools to close and tight new hospitality rules