Coronavirus: New restrictions announced in Derry and Strabane

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Executive ministers confirmed that a circuit breaker lockdown across Northern Ireland is not being considered yet

Pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels in the Derry and Strabane council area are to be placed under new restrictions to try and curb the spread of Covid-19.

They will only be able to open for takeaway, delivery and outdoor dining, First Minister Arlene Foster said.

It is part of a series of measures due to come into force next week, which will last for at least a fortnight.

But Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill urged residents to comply immediately with the new rules.

Meanwhile, Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital has suspended some services to manage Covid-19 patients.

The Western Trust says elective orthopaedic inpatient services have been suspended and it has implemented its surge plan and re-designated the ward to cope with the expected surge.

The Trust says the decision will be kept under review.

It has also warned that it is facing increased staff pressures, as rising levels of Covid-19 in the community mean more and more staff are being asked to self-isolate.

In a statement, the trust's Director of Acute Services, Geraldine McKay, said red flag cancer and emergency surgery were continuing, alongside some face-to-face and virtual outpatient clinics.

On Thursday afternoon, the executive agreed to impose the measures on hospitality businesses in Derry and Strabane because it has one of the highest Covid-19 rates in the UK.

Other measures introduced in the area include:

  • Where residents can, work from home
  • Avoid unnecessary travel within the council area and to and from it
  • Where journeys are necessary, advice is to walk, cycle or use private transport
  • Hotels will only be allowed to provide service to overnight guests
  • No spectators can attend sporting events
  • All museums, galleries and cultural attractions in the council area are to remain closed
  • No organised indoor gatherings in community halls
  • Libraries can only operate a "call and collect" service
  • Indoor sports limited to individual training only, no exercise classes permitted

Schools and other educational settings will stay open.

Church services will continue, and weddings and funerals will still be permitted, in line with current executive guidance.

Mrs Foster said it was "by no means" a return to lockdown for the area, but she told a Stormont press briefing she recognised the news would come as a "hammer-blow" for businesses.

She said ministers had commenced work on how financial support measures could be drawn up.

Ms O'Neill said she recognised many people would be "sad and worried", but added that the executive would try to provide as much clarity as possible.

"This is about everyone doing their bit to keep everybody safe - just because you don't have symptoms doesn't mean you're not spreading the virus," she said.

Call for support package

Foyle MP and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urged people to abide by the new restrictions, but said it was "a two-way street".

"Government cannot restrict trading opportunities in the north west without additional support for businesses that will close and workers forced to be at home," he said.

He added that he would seek a support package for those affected.

On Thursday, the Department of Health announced a further 259 cases of Covid-19, down from 424 on Wednesday.

Two further Covid-related deaths were confirmed, bringing the Department of Health's total to 581.

The Department of Health mostly records fatalities in a hospital setting.

Northern Ireland is currently recording an average of 250 new cases a day and the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is doubling every 13 days.

In the Republic of Ireland, 442 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Thursday with four more deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 1,806.

Circuit breaker 'not appropriate yet'

A so-called two week "circuit breaker" lockdown is not being considered yet, but on Wednesday Health Minister Robin Swann said it could be brought in around the Halloween break at the end of this month, if not earlier.

Asked why the executive did not opt to introduce the move across Northern Ireland now, Mrs Foster said they did not believe it was appropriate yet.

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said it was "crucial we don't introduce measures if they're not necessary".

Mrs Foster also said returning to a wider lockdown would require significant financial support for businesses.

"We are very much aware if you are asking people to stay at home, not go to work and keep children at home there are huge financial burdens from that," she added.

While Ms O'Neill said there were "natural breaks" with the half-term holidays coming up, and it made sense to align that with potential NI-wide lockdowns.

"If we were going to move forward with this concept it would be much better if it was done across the two islands together," she added.

"We haven't discussed this at length in the executive yet... but if we were to get to the point we were moving in that direction, we need to give people advance notice and understanding so we get that buy-in."

The first and deputy first ministers also warned that tougher penalties were on the way for those who breach the Covid-19 regulations.

Mrs Foster said the Justice Minister Naomi Long was carrying out a "rapid review" of fines, and Ms O'Neill said the executive had "concerns around compliance" that it hopes to address in the coming days.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Restrictions on pub opening times have been put in place

On Thursday, the Department of Health announced that travellers from Turkey and Poland will soon have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival into Northern Ireland.

The measure will take effect from 04:00 BST on Saturday and also includes travellers arriving in NI from the regions of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba.

Meanwhile, from Thursday pubs and restaurants must close their doors at 23:00 BST under new rules designed to help stem the spread of the virus.

It means no food or alcohol can be served after 22:30 BST and all customers must be off the premises 30 minutes after that.

The rules also apply to hotel bars, weddings and other social events, with no late licences permitted.

No more than six people from two households may sit at the same indoor or outdoor table at a pub or restaurant here, and live music and dancing are banned.

The only exception is a couple's first dance at a wedding.