Northern Ireland can slow COVID-19 even without lockdown in Ireland: health chief

Amanda Ferguson
·2-min read
A social distancing marker as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
A social distancing marker as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland can slow a rapidly increasing spread of COVID-19 even if it takes a different approach from that across the border in Ireland, the region's chief scientific officer said on Tuesday.

Ireland's government rejected a call by its health chiefs on Monday to deploy a "circuit breaker" - a short, intensive national lockdown - and instead tightened COVID-19 restrictions across the country.

Northern Ireland's devolved government is discussing the possibility of using a circuit breaker to get a much faster rise in infections under control in the British-run region.

But Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, joint head of the power-sharing government, said on Sunday a circuit breaker would only work if it was put in place across the entire island of Ireland.

"I think that it's possible that decisions made by the Northern Ireland executive would continue to be effective even if somewhat different decisions were made in the Republic of Ireland," Chief Scientific Officer Ian Young told reporters.

Northern Ireland reported 669 new cases on Tuesday, pushing up the number of cases over the last seven days per 100,000 people to 212.8 from 96 a week ago, higher than the rate in most European countries.

Ireland's 14-day cumulative case total has risen to 110 and the most impacted areas in both jurisdictions are along the 500-km land border.

Northern Ireland extended restrictions, that it had imposed in some areas earlier this month, across the whole region two weeks ago, ordering households to mix with only one other household indoors. O'Neill said on Tuesday all options needed to be on the table regarding further restrictions.

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said there was limited evidence so far that the wider restrictions were slowing transmission.

"The virus is increasing at an exponential rate so the critical thing now is that we see a slowing of the rate of increase in the next week or so," McBride said.

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Janet Lawrence)