A Catholic church in Co.Mayo in the west of Ireland. Public religious services are prohibited in Ireland but not in Northern Ireland (Simon Roughneen)
A Catholic church in Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland. Public religious services are prohibited in Ireland but not in Northern Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to reimpose a coronavirus-related lockdown, officials in Northern Ireland are saying instead that a more focused approach will be maintained for the British-controlled region.

“If we are not going for a full lockdown then restrictions have to be targetted,” said Robin Swann, health minister in the northern administration.

Northern Ireland last week added new local measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, including closing pubs and restaurants for one month.

After tightening curbs several times in recent weeks, the Irish government on Monday ordered the imposition of a six-week stay-at-home lockdown.

Though schools will stay open, the Republic of Ireland, usually called Ireland, will be the first European Union member state to reimpose the kind of lockdown seen across the bloc after the pandemic spread to Europe in early 2020.

A recent resurgence of new daily case numbers across the continent has prompted other regions to reimpose restrictions, with parts of France seeing a night curfew and and England introducing a similar tiered system of restrictions to Ireland’s.

Ireland already had Europe’s strictest rules even before the new lockdown, according to a University of Oxford database, with pubs forced to stay closed from March until September and public religious worship prohibited for a second time in early October.

Church services have not been stopped in Northern Ireland, marking another difference in approach between the two jurisdictions.

Despite proceeding unilaterally with changes to restrictins, government ministers in Dublin have been calling for an all-island approach to dealing with the pandemic.

The roughly 500-kilometer open frontier between the two parts of Ireland winds through towns and farms. Though adjacent regions either side of the line have been worst affected by the recent spread of the virus, Northern Ireland officials on Wednesday cited a slowing rate of increase of spread since last week’s curbs were introduced.

Northern Ireland on Wednesday reported 289 patients in hospital after testing positive for the virus; 41 people were hospitalized one month ago. Meanwhile 324 people are in hospital in the Republic of Ireland, up from 90 on September 21.

Both jurisdictions have for the past two weeks been reporting around 1,000 new cases a day, with numbers exceeding those seen during the previous peak in April – albeit based on far more tests being carried out.

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