The First Minister Arlene Foster has announced today the recent decisions that have been taken by the Executive to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking in front of the Assembly, Mrs Foster said that these decisions were taken ‘against the following backdrop’ listing the following:
- Since the beginning of July there has been a gradual but sustained rise in the number of positive Covid-19 tests.
- On Saturday, the Department of Health confirmed a further 319 people in Northern Ireland had tested positive for coronavirus. Since then, a further 407 people have tested positive.
- Saturday was the highest daily tally reported since the pandemic began and brings the total number of confirmed cases reported to 10,949.
- 1,513 cases were diagnosed in the last seven days alone.
- Unfortunately, one death has been reported bringing the death toll to 578.
- There are currently 51 Covid patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland, with six in intensive care and there are outbreaks of the virus in 28 care homes.
Going on to present details to the Assembly, the First Minister went on: “Evidence we have from the Test, Trace, Protect programme tells us that a significant number of the Covid cases are being acquired through household contacts and informal interactions in the community. Wherever people meet each other, there is a risk of transmission.
“This is why the Executive agreed that restrictions in domestic settings should be introduced in order to reduce community transmission occurring through indoor social gatherings in households. Initially this was applied on a postcode basis but now applies to all areas of Northern Ireland.
“These restrictions are a necessary and proportionate approach to address the increasing number of Covid cases that we have witnessed since early July, and which have accelerated over the past weeks.
“The positive case numbers are of serious concern to the Executive, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser. The numbers themselves, and the rate at which cases are doubling should be a concern to all parts of our society including the business sector and citizens.
“If allowed to continue this will inevitably lead to an increase in hospital admissions and deaths – that is something we must try to minimise.”
Last Thursday the Executive had agreed that a closing time of 11.00pm should be applied to bars, restaurants and the wider hospitality sector. Today it was confirmed that this will come into effect from midnight on Wednesday (September 30th). This will “apply to those parts of the hospitality sectors subject to current regulations, including pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes as well as hotel and guest house bars”, confirmed Mrs Foster.
Further expanding on the new regulations: “No alcohol or food will be served after 10.30pm and all customers must leave by 11.00pm. In practice this brings the normal closing times forward by half an hour and there will be no late licences.
“The intention behind the earlier closing time is that socialising later in the evening is considered to increase the risk of virus spreading because people adhere to the rules less strictly after consuming alcohol and in venues where they are used to mixing freely.
“There can be no exceptions to this, so weddings and other important social events will also be required to comply.”
Speaking in regards to enforcement powers the First Minister said: “But enforcement has a role, and we are working closely with the PSNI and local government to understand the issues from their perspectives and also the importance of community responses. Junior Ministers are working closely with PSNI and local government, and we will be looking at the fines levels we have here as a matter of priority.
“It is essential that business owners and members of the public adhere to these restrictions, which will help reduce the length of time the restrictions will need to be retained.
“We want to avoid more stringent measures. But we have been clear from the outset of this pandemic that we will put restrictions in place if we have to. We will do so carefully and with great thought to the social and economic impacts, but if we need to act, we will.
“As always, we must continue to be extremely careful in all aspects of our lives, particularly for the medically vulnerable members of our community. We appreciate this a difficult time for everyone and yet more restrictions are not what any of us want. We cannot emphasise enough that the regulations are intended to protect you, to protect other people, to reduce the spread of infection and to bring the epidemic to an end as soon as possible.”