No plan to change Christmas Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland

Michelle Devane and David Young, PA
·3-min read

Christmas Covid-19 restrictions remain unchanged in Northern Ireland, despite rules being tightened in other parts of the UK – but the situation “is under review”.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was an “evolving situation”.

Mrs Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Health Minister Robin Swann, chief medical officer Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young held discussions on the matter on Saturday, following the Prime Minister’s statement.

The First Minister described it as a “useful briefing”.

“This is an evolving situation with the virus mutation,” she said. “It’s essential that we all play our part by following the regulations.”

It is expected that discussions will continue throughout the weekend.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the situation as “fast-moving”, and said it was being kept “under constant review”.

Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “We have been in discussion with health minister, CMO and CSA on recent developments.

“We will continue the discussion over the weekend. We all need to limit our interaction with others – stay at home.”

It comes as Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly.

The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.

Many people set to travel to Northern Ireland from the affected areas in the rest of the UK will have their plans scuppered due to the travel bans announced on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland Executive decided last week to impose a six-week lockdown from December 26.

But over Christmas people from up to three households will be allowed to congregate together in “social bubbles” between December 23 and 27, unlike the rest of the UK.

The first week of the measures will see the toughest lockdown yet in Northern Ireland, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.

Non-essential retail will close throughout the six weeks, as will close contact services. Hospitality outlets will be limited to takeaway services.

Organised sport will also be banned, with elite sport included in the prohibition for the first week.

On Saturday Northern Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed another 17 people with Covid-19 had died in a 24-hour period, bringing the death toll to 1,183.

A further 640 new cases of the virus were also reported in the region.

There were 427 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, including 30 in ICU.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have clashed amid a blame game over the region’s spiralling virus infection rates.