Increased restrictions have come into play in Northern Ireland as of Thursday in response to an “urgent situation”, as described by First Minister Arlene Foster about the spread of COVID-19 in the cities of Derry and Strabane.
The DUP leader iterated it was not a lockdown but the measures were needed to curb the spread of coronavirus while balancing the effects a lockdown could have on “lives and livelihoods”.
Foster said the areas had gone from having the lowest number of cases to the highest in the UK with the R rate – the number of people one infected person will pass the virus to – above 2. Westminster has previously indicated one of its benchmarks for easing restrictions was to keep the R rate below 1.
The new restrictions include limiting hospitality outlets to outdoor dining, takeaways and deliveries. Hotels are also restricted in their services, and wet pubs can only serve customers outside.
There is also a ban on organised indoor gatherings in for-hire venues and between households, except weddings and funerals or religious services and workplaces where working from home is not possible.
Indoor sports are also limited while organised outdoor gatherings have a limit of 15 people, and no spectators are allowed for sporting events. Cultural attractions must close and libraries can offer a call and collect service only.
People are also being asked to limit travel as much as possible and to wear a mask on public transport if travel is necessary.
The First Minister acknowledged the blow the restrictions would be to businesses but “stronger enforcement of existing regulations” was needed.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill called the new measures “a devastating blow to our sector at this critical time” and indicated it would lead to many businesses closing.
The announcement comes as the country has experienced a recent surge in cases and two more deaths were confirmed, bringing the death toll to 581.