North enters two-week circuit-breaker lockdown

Pubs, restaurants and retail close until December 11th as vaccination plan announced

People walk past The Kitchen Bar at Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

People walk past The Kitchen Bar at Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland enters a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown on Friday designed to arrest the spread of coronavirus.

From Friday, pubs, restaurants, non-essential retail and close contact services will close for two weeks to help curb the spread of the virus.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decision was “difficult but right”, while the hospitality sector is seeking assurances from Stormont that it can reopen on December 11th.

On Thursday eight more coronavirus deaths were recorded in Northern Ireland, taking the total Covid-19 death toll there to 962.

There were also 442 new confirmed cases of the virus in the North, bringing the total number of confirmed cases there since the outbreak of the pandemic to 51,118.

Hospital bed occupancy in Northern Ireland is at 99 per cent. There are now 431 patients in Northern Ireland hospitals receiving Covid treatment, with 39 in intensive care and 33 on ventilators.

The overall seven-day Covid incidence for Northern Ireland is 130 cases per 100,000 of population.

The North’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the R rate of infection was now just below 1.

“I am glad to say we no longer have the highest level of incidences in the British Isles. We now sit below England and Wales. So, we have successfully slowed down the rising trend of infection rates,” she added.

The fresh lockdown came as details of a rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, being planned by a special Northern Ireland taskforce, were announced.

Minister for Health Robin Swann said the rollout would be a “major logistical exercise lasting many months, taking us to the middle of next year at least”.

“While I am cautious by nature, I am optimistic that vaccination will increasingly do the heavy lifting for us in 2021 in the battle against coronavirus,” he said.

Ms Foster said that Northern Ireland, which has a population of about 1.8 million, will receive about 4 million doses of the vaccines, when they are authorised.

Rollout would be over a number of phases, starting with care home residents and staff, health and social care workers and people aged over 80.

Under-50s would receive the vaccines in the last phase.

It was proposed to have fixed mass vaccination sites to vaccinate all health workers. “The plan is that between 5,000 and 8,000 can be vaccinated per day to ensure that all 100,000 healthcare staff can be covered over a three-week period,” Ms Foster said.