North set for start of new Covid-19 restrictions

Belfast City Council, Ballymena and BT43, BT28 and BT29 postcode regions affected

New restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus in parts of Northern Ireland come into effect on Monday.

Limits have been placed on the number of people who can meet in private dwellings indoors and out, and residents have also been asked to avoid unnecessary travel outside the affected areas.

The curbs will apply within the Belfast City Council area and in Ballymena, Co Antrim, as well as the BT43, BT28 and BT29 postcodes.

Hospital Report

In these areas, members of different households are not allowed to meet indoors, with the exception of those in a social bubble with one other household and those with caring responsibilities, including childcare. No more than six people, from no more than two households, are permitted to meet in private gardens. The restrictions will be in place for a minimum of two weeks.

There had been calls for further clarity over the regulations, which some have criticised as being confusing.

DUP MP Ian Paisley, whose constituency includes Ballymena, told the BBC he was "completely dissatisfied" and "very disappointed" by the new rules.

“We can’t close our country down because of Covid,” he said.

‘Best will in the world’

SDLP MP Claire Hanna, who represents South Belfast, said her party supported the new measures but it was "very important that we're clear with people because even people who are trying, with the best will in the world, to engage are getting confused by some of the messages".

Updated guidance published on the NI Direct website explains that the restrictions are “focused on reducing contacts between people in household settings” and everything else was covered with guidance, not regulations.

This was because, the website said, “positive cases are rising in Northern Ireland, particularly in these areas,” and it was an attempt to halt the spread of the virus by reducing people’s contact with others.

Over the weekend, 191 more people tested positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland, according to the North's Department of Health. In total, 8,314 cases have been confirmed in the North since the pandemic began.

Northern Ireland’s figures on coronavirus-related deaths are not updated at weekends. According to the department’s most recent figures, published on Friday, 568 people with the virus have so far died in the North.

Second peak

Meanwhile, four out of every five doctors in Northern Ireland believe a second peak of Covid-19 is likely or very likely to happen within the next six months, according to a survey published on Monday by the British Medical Association (BMA).

Dr Tom Black, the chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland Council, said members were "rightly worried that we have not been able to get this disease under control.

“From this survey, we can see that doctors think we need two things to prevent a second, worse peak of Covid-19: a fit-for-purpose track-and-trace system; and a coherent, rapid and consistent approach to getting local outbreaks under control,” he said.

“Last week the Executive made the right moves in that direction with localised lockdowns and alongside that we need clear messages for the general public so they understand what they are being asked to do and why.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

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