Northern Ireland to close schools, pubs, restaurants due to coronavirus concerns – dpa international


DUBLIN — Faced with rising novel coronavirus infection numbers, Northern Ireland will require restaurants and pubs to close for four weeks, the region’s First Minister Arlene Foster said on Wednesday.

“There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19,” Foster said, referring to the disease sometimes caused by the virus.

Hairdressers and salons must also close for one month, though restaurants and pubs can offer takeaway or delivery services. The restrictions come into force from Friday.

Schools will close for two weeks and people have been asked to avoid “unnecessary travel” and “work from home unless unable to do so.”

Responding to the announcement, industry body Hospitality Ulster warned of “redundancies across the sector” unless Foster’s administration comes up with an “emergency financial package” for affected businessses.

Angela McGowan, Director of the Northern Ireland branch of the Confederation of British Industry, said that businesses “urgently need to see a strategy for living with Covid-19 to protect both lives and livelihoods.”

Northern Ireland is under British jurisdiction but its regional administration largely manages health care independently.

The government in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland last week tightened curbs on pubs and restaurants to takeaway, delivery or outdoor dining for up to 15 people and called on Northern Ireland authorities to follow suit.

According to Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Tánaiste, or Deputy Prime Minister, Dublin will likely respond to the new measures announced by imposing additional restrictions in counties along the open border with Northern Ireland, which in places cuts through villages and farms.

Despite calls for the regimes to be harmonized, Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Wednesday that schools will stay open on the southern side of the border. If the Irish government opts to tighten curbs in response to the changes announced north of the border, a tiered restrictions blueprint also means only “essential” retail will be permitted in border regions. Northern Ireland’s new systems will allow most retailers to keep trading.

Michelle O’Neill, Foster’s deputy, said on Wednesday that an “an all-island basis” is needed to try control the spread of the virus. O’Neill’s Sinn Féin party wants Northern Ireland to be subsumed into the rest of Ireland, while Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party staunchly supports Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

O’Neill, whose party is also the main opposition faction in Dublin, said her argument was not “political,” but was “a purely medical, scientific point.”

Adjacent regions on either side of the frontier have reported the highest incidences of the coronavirus in Britain and Ireland in recent weeks, though the virus appears to be spreading fastest in Northern Ireland.

Almost 7,000 people, including a record 1,217 on Wednesday, have tested positive in Northern Ireland over the past week – more than south of the border where almost three times as many people live.

Northern Ireland’s health officials reported two new deaths related to the virus on Wednesday, after Ireland’s Department of Health on Tuesday reported three deaths among people who tested positive.

While daily virus case numbers are topping those recorded during the worst of the pandemic in April, around four times as many tests are being conducted.

Hospitalizations in Ireland have jumped from 36 at the start of September to levels last reported in May – around a third the numbers seen in April.

Combined official figures for both parts of the island show 398 people in hospital, with 54 in intensive care units.

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