THE Executive has today decided to introduce a series of localised restrictions to stem the increase in Covid-19 cases and keep people safe.
The areas covered are:
* Belfast City Council area
* Postcode area BT28
* Postcode area BT29
* The town of Ballymena and postcode area BT43.
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;
* Anyone living in these areas is asked to avoid unnecessary travel outside the restricted areas;
* Care homes and hospitals in these areas will be advised to significantly curtail visits as soon as practicable. One member of a family will be permitted a visit once a week while these localised restrictions apply. More frequent visits may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, including palliative care facilities and those receiving end of life care.
* Medically vulnerable and older people living in these areas are asked to be particularly careful in following the advice on limiting household contacts, social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering, given the local levels of Covid-19.
Anyone living in the areas is asked to follow the restrictions with immediate effect.
Regulations on the restrictions will be introduced next week, making some legally enforceable.
The Executive has also agreed today to set up a new Ministerial-led group to consider compliance and enforcement of the regulations, representing a concerted effort to ensure that everyone follows the letter and spirit of the law.
The localised restrictions will be in place for a minimum of two weeks, after which they will be reviewed. Postcode areas may be added and removed from the local restrictions as patterns of infection change and further interventions and restrictions can be introduced as necessary.
The restrictions are being applied for postcodes which currently have levels of Covid cases at or above those where local restrictions have been imposed elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.
A number of Belfast Council postcodes fall into this category. The Executive has decided to apply restrictions across the entire Belfast City council boundaries, reflecting the level of population movement across the city, including by public transport.
The Executive had the option of applying restrictions to the whole of the province.
However, there is a marked variation in the incidence of cases in different localities.
It is hoped that a geographically targeted approach will help create a clear incentive for widespread compliance with public health advice.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We have seen a progressive rise in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland since early July, and recently there has been a further and deeply worrying acceleration.
“We know only too well the damage this virus can do, particularly to vulnerable people in our community. Doing nothing in the current circumstances would be indefensible.
“I recognise the anxiety these measures may cause in the affected districts. We will work closely with our local government partners to ensure these areas get all the support they need to get their Covid rates down and the restrictions lifted.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is about protecting our citizens and saving lives. The increase in Covid-19 cases in our community in recent weeks should be a wake-up call to everyone.
“I would assure everyone living in the districts affected by restrictions that we have thought long and hard before taking this decision.
“I would also emphasise that we all have to keep playing our part and follow public health advice, whether we live in these areas or not. The restrictions will be kept under active review and other districts can be urgently added to the list if required.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I welcome this collective action by the Executive today.
“This is about limiting contacts between people and stopping the spread of the virus. Concrete action now can help us avoid more drastic restrictions down the line.
“There must be no complacency in the areas that are not affected by restrictions this time around. Covid-19 rates of infection can increase rapidly and with catastrophic consequences. We all have to maintain social distancing, keep washing our hands and wear face coverings when required. We all have to keep doing this to get through it.”
The Executive has also set an indicative date of September 21 for the opening of wet pubs, providing circumstances permit and with strict adherence to guidance, regulation and appropriate enforcement.
Junior Ministers Lyons and Kearney met with the hospitality sector earlier in the week to discuss the opening of bars. Officials with bring forward proposals to a future Executive meeting to enable those who are acting responsibly to open alongside a workable enforcement regime.
The Executive also agreed that soft play areas can open on 14 September in line with the indicative date. Soft play area providers will need to comply with Regulations including preparing risk assessments. Guidance for the sector will soon be published on www.nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus