NORTHERN Ireland has reduced festive bubbles to Christmas Day only in a tough coronavirus crackdown.
The country will be plunged into a harsh lockdown on Boxing Day – as Stormont ministers mull whether to impose a ban on flights from the rest of the UK.
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Shoppers in face masks walk through Belfast city centre last week[/caption]
The decision on festive bubbles was agreed by Stormont executives during an emergency virtual executive meeting late on Sunday night.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, ministers have also debated a potential travel ban on arrivals from the rest of the UK as a highly infectious new Covid strain rips through London and the South East.
It comes as Boris Johnson last night cancelled Christmas for millions of Brits – telling them to “stay local” amid fears the variant can spread up to 70 per cent faster.
In Northern Ireland’s lockdown, people won’t be allowed to meet up at all and any outdoor exercise must be done alone or with household members.
Non-essential shops will shut from the end of trading on Christmas Eve and stay closed for six weeks.
Any essential businesses allowed to remain open must close at 8pm for the first week of the lockdown.
This is the harshest lockdown the UK has seen yet, as even in the first full lockdown in March there was no curfew.
Although the severe rules will be coming in on December 26 for shops and hospitality, anyone forming a Christmas bubble can still go ahead with plans for three households to meet – but only on Christmas Day.
Northern Ireland's lockdown rules:
- Lockdown begins on Boxing Day, but Christmas bubbles are still allowed on Christmas Day only.
- Anyone from Northern Ireland travelling to England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland to meet a Christmas bubble can do so only on Christmas Day.
- Brits living in Tier 4 areas in London or the South East, or in Wales, cannot travel to Northern Ireland.
- Everyone must stay at home after 8pm in the first week of lockdown
- No outdoor mixing is allowed
- No household mixing is allowed except in an emergency
- Non essential retail will shut on Christmas Eve and remain shut for six weeks
- All hospitality to close – deliveries, takeaway, hotels, B&Bs and hostels are exempt
- Close contact services, which include hair salons and tattoo shops, to close
- All essential businesses that are allowed to remain open have to close by 8pm in the first week of lockdown
- No sporting activity is allowed during the first week of lockdown
- Following this, any outdoor exercise must be done alone or with household members. The recent 5km travel limit doesn’t seem to apply in this lockdown
- Schools will stay open but remote learning will be done where possible
The Stormont Executive will review the measures after four weeks.
Close-contact services, such as hair salons, will have to shut and pubs, cafes and restaurants will be restricted to takeaway and delivery services.
Health chiefs have cited low compliance with the regulations and guidance as a reason infections, hospital admissions and death rates remain relatively high.
On Sunday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed another 13 people with the virus had died, bringing the death toll to 1,196.
A further 505 new cases of the virus were also reported.
Hospital beds were already at a 104 per cent capacity earlier this week and their ICUs were at 82 per cent capacity, according to the country’s Covid-19 dashboard.
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service announced on Thursday that paramedics from the Irish Republic are set to bolster their numbers this weekend.
Michael Bloomfield, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), said the move is “relatively unusual” and reflects the pressure they are under.
On Tuesday, queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside the hospitals.
At one point 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the emergency department of the Antrim Area Hospital.
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Earlier this week, the Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann had said he would put forward a number of “robust and extreme” recommendations at an executive meeting.
The draconian lockdown measures will shut retail, hospitality and leisure for six weeks. Ministers did not decide to close schools.
It marks the third lockdown Northern Ireland has had to grapple with.