A ban on households mixing is to be extended across the whole of Northern Ireland.
The restriction had been imposed as part of ‘localised’ curtailments in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19 last week.
On Friday, large parts of the Armagh district under the BT60 postcode were added to other parts of Northern Ireland in that households were forbidden from meeting indoors.
But this evening (Monday) that was extended to include all of Northern Ireland.
The change – confirmed at a media briefing by the Northern Ireland Executive – is to come into effect at 6pm tomorrow (Tuesday).
First Minister Arlene Foster blamed the increasing number of positive cases on household gatherings.
The decision comes after a weekend in which 222 new coronavirus cases were reported on Saturday and a further 176 on Sunday.
There had been confusion and criticism over Friday’s announcement locally particularly given the split between postcode ‘border’ areas between BT60 and BT61.
It meant that on some streets households could gather but neighbours were prevented from doing so on the other side.
The restrictions are:
No mixing of households in private dwellings, with exemptions for: bubbling with one other household; caring responsibilities including childcare; essential maintenance; supported living arrangements; visits required for legal or medical purposes; or marriage or civil partnerships where one partner is terminally ill.
No more than six people to gather in a private garden from no more than two households. Children aged 12 and under from those two households are discounted from this total.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The Executive has today agreed to extend the restrictions across Northern Ireland to protect people and save lives.
“Coronavirus has been on the increase since early July and confirmation that almost 400 people tested positive over the weekend, and a further 125 today, is of grave concern to the Executive.
“The restriction on domestic settings is a proportionate measure at this time – the risk of the virus spreading is greater in unregulated environments where people mix more freely with each other.
“But we know we may need to take further steps in the days and weeks ahead and our decisions will continue to be informed by the scientific and medical advice.
“We are at a critical point in the fight against the virus. People across Northern Ireland responded heroically earlier in the year to flatten the curve of infection and save lives. We need to dig deep and do that again and follow the public health advice to stop the spread of coronavirus.”
The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I understand that these restrictions will be a concern to many but they are a necessary step to slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
“The increasing rate of infection and the steps taken by the Executive should shake people from any complacency or misbelief that we are through the worst of the virus.
“The Executive has always said that it will step back and introduce further restrictions if the situation called for it. With the alarming increase in cases, we have decided to act now to extend the restrictions across the north.
“These restrictions will only be in place for as long as necessary. We will keep the situation under close review and, if needed, we will consider what other steps the Executive can take to keep people safe.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “It was important that the Executive came together today to review its measures to halt the spread of coronavirus and come to the decision to extend the restrictions.
“These steps are about limiting contacts between people in domestic settings and stopping the spread of the virus.
“I know many people are fed-up with coronavirus but we are not powerless to stop the spread.
“Unfortunately, it is expected that further restrictions will be required sooner rather than later. Decisive and concerted action is needed to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
“By continuing to following the public health advice; to wash our hands, keep our distance, wear a face covering and download the StopCovid NI app, we can all do our bit to hold back the virus.”
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