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Coronavirus: Ministers to make NI TV address

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image copyrightKelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
image captionThe widening of restrictions was announced following an urgent executive meeting on Monday

The first and deputy first ministers will address Northern Ireland in a live television broadcast on Tuesday evening.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill will follow the prime minister's UK-wide update on BBC One at 20:00 BST.

Covid-19 restrictions were widened after a meeting of the executive on Monday.

The executive has also said it will monitor developments with students travelling home at weekends.

Mrs Foster said Stormont and universities had been working on "support mechanisms" if that becomes unsustainable.

Covid-19 restrictions were extended to all of NI from 18:00 BST.

There will be no mixing of households indoors with the following exceptions:

  • Bubbling with one other household
  • Caring responsibilities including childcare
  • Essential maintenance
  • Supported living arrangements
  • Visits required for legal or medical purposes
  • Marriage or civil partnerships where one partner is terminally ill

"Bubbling" allows for two households to link together, for example to provide support, but they cannot form links with any others.

No more than six people can gather in a private garden from no more than two households but children aged 12 and under from those two households are discounted from this total.

Mrs Foster told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback that NI had the "unique" situation where a lot of young people spend the weekend at home with their families and students going home should be "careful and to be alert to the dangers".

On Tuesday, the Department of Health announced 75 new cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland - down from 125 on Monday, with no further deaths linked to the virus.

In the last seven days, 963 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Thirty-six people are currently in hospital with the virus, five of whom are in intensive care.

In the Republic of Ireland, no further coronavirus-related deaths and 334 new cases of Covid-19 have been reported.

It brings the total number of confirmed cases to 33,444. with the death toll remaining at 1,792.

'Crucial period ahead'

Earlier Mrs Foster told Good Morning Ulster the executive would consider a "circuit breaker" - moves aimed at stopping the rapid spread of Covid-19.

She said the idea was "in the mix".

However she added: "I believe that if we work together we will not need to go into a situation that we were in before."

media captionBBC News NI's Jordan Kenny explains the latest Covid-19 restrictions

It comes after the deputy first minister said the coronavirus situation was now "more challenging" than in March, as the executive tries to balance a return to normal life alongside "keeping the virus in check".

Michelle O'Neill said there are a "difficult number of months" and "crucial period ahead".

Ms O'Neill told the Good Morning Ulster programme that people were probably "tired" of hearing about new restrictions, but she said it was important to give them "hope".

She said people can "change this picture" over Covid-19 by their own behaviour.

"Where we are at today is on par with how I felt in early March and we are in for a difficult few months ahead," she said.

'Extreme times'

The Northern Ireland Executive is to meet on Thursday to consider further measures.

Ms O'Neill said the idea of introducing a curfew on staying in licensed premises like England was "pertinent" and that the executive would be making an announcement on this on Thursday.

She admitted this would be a challenge for the industry but that we were in "extreme times".

Drink-only pubs are due to open on Wednesday.

Ms O'Neill reiterated the NI executive's message that where possible "please work from home", if it can be accommodated by employers.

image copyrightSolStock/Getty
image captionNo more than six people, from two households, will be able to gather in private gardens

Also on Tuesday, the first and deputy first ministers held discussions with the prime minister, chancellor and the political leaders in Scotland and Wales.

The issue of extending the employee furlough scheme was raised with both Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill calling for it to be extended.

The issue of testing and PPE was also discussed in the remote meeting.

On Tuesday morning, assembly members Colin McGrath (SDLP) and Robbie Butler (UUP) criticised Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill for not facing questions in the chamber as amendments to NI health protection regulations were debated.

"I do wonder if the first and deputy first ministers are in hiding because they can't agree on the message that they need to be sending out," Mr McGrath said.

He added that the ministers were sending out confusing and contradictory messages on the rules.

Mr Butler also queried the absence of Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill.

"I would plead with the TEO (The Executive Office) to step up here, there's four ministers in that office not one, four - why are they not here today?" Mr Butler said.

"I don't get cross very often, but I'm cross today because I don't believe it should fall on the health minister's shoulders solely at a time of crisis."

'Finely balanced decisions'

Earlier, NI's Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young told BBC Radio Foyle further guidance on the new restrictions would be issued in the coming days.

He said a full lockdown was something "we wish to avoid under all circumstances".

"Back in March things were relatively simple in terms of decision making and we moved to a full lockdown and it worked. It was extremely painful but it worked.

"Now we have a whole range of decisions open to us and we recognised the harm the lockdown caused.

"Hence, the finely balanced decisions that need to be made now are I think much more difficult in terms of trying to get it right," he said.

Prof Young said a balance is needed that controls virus transmission and allows the economy and society "to function as much as we can".

He said until there was a vaccine, coronavirus was "something we are going to have to learn to live with".

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