Six week's of further Covid 19 restrictions have been agreeed by the Stormont Executive. The restrictions will come into place on St Stephen's Day. They are expected to run to 6 February but will be reviewed four weeks in. Announcing the moves Health Minister Robin Swann said “We are in large part returning to the sustained lockdown introduced in March. Once again, a heavy responsibility will rest on all of us to remain at home as much as possible over the course of the six-week period."

A deflated Santa on The Mall in Newry could sum up this years Christmas festivities. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
A deflated Santa on The Mall in Newry could sum up this years Christmas festivities. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

The first week from 26 December to 2 January will see the tightest restrictions yet introduced with virtually all activity to cease from 8pm to 6am in that period. The move will greatly reduce the number of Christmas gatherings both by closing the venues normally associated and stopping mixing of households. At present the police haven't commented on their enforcement procedures.

In summary, the restrictions for the six-week period include: The closure of hospitality and non-essential retail with a stricter demarcation between essential and non-essential retail than that deployed during the recent circuit breaker. Click and collect retail will not be permitted, and homeware will not be categorised as essential retail.

Off sales (including from bars) will be permitted from 08:00 on Monday to Saturday, and from 10:00 on Sunday, until 20:00 on any day. Hospitality businesses will only be allowed to offer takeaway and delivery food.

Close contact businesses will close.

Places of worship can remain open under strict conditions

The First Week - 26 December to 2 January

All indoor or outdoor gatherings of any kind are barred between 8pm and 6am including at sporting venues, with the exception it appears of outdoor exercise being permitted with members of your own household.

Businesses which are permitted to remain open as part of the restrictions also must close between 8pm and 6am

Also from 8pm to 6am that week no household mixing will be permitted in private gardens or indoors in any setting, except for emergencies or the provision of health or care services or where households have chosen to form a Christmas bubble for a period of time between 23 to 27 December with provision for travel a day either side when absolutely necessary.

A deserted Monaghan Street in Newry

Health Minister Robin Swann will be making an oral statement to the Assembly on Monday setting out the evidence that informed the Executive's discussions and detailing the regulations that are being introduced.

Impact on Lives and Livelihoods

After the measures were announced Health Minister Swann said: “We have introduced these measures with a heavy heart, very mindful of the impact the last year has had on lives and livelihoods. The evidence before us was clear that decisive intervention was required to prevent the growing tide of Covid-19 cases overwhelming our health service, with catastrophic consequences.

“Many parts of Europe have introduced significant restrictions for the same reason. Those railing against these measures are noticeably much quieter when it comes to suggesting feasible alternatives.

“I would appeal to everyone to unite behind these restrictions so that we can derive the maximum benefit in terms of driving down infection levels. We must all play our part and keep following public health advice on keeping ourselves and others safe."

Minister Swann added “Stay at home, reduce your contacts, save lives, protect the health service – the message is as vital and as powerful as it was in the early stages of the pandemic.

“There is so much at stake, so much resting on our collective efforts. We can weather this period of extreme challenges together, knowing that hope is on the horizon with the roll-out of the vaccination programme.”

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