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'The situation is quite dire': Northern Ireland to go into six-week lockdown from Stephen's Day

Stormont sources said the proposals are more akin to March’s full-scale lockdown than the recent periods of circuit-break restrictions.

File photo. Shoppers in Belfast city centre.
File photo. Shoppers in Belfast city centre.
Image: PA IMages

Updated Dec 17th 2020, 9:10 PM

A SIX-WEEK lockdown starting on St Stephen’s Day has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.

Stormont ministers convened this afternoon to consider Health Minister Robin Swann’s recommendations on how to suppress the virus; discussions continued into the evening.

Measures are expected to include the closing of all non-essential retail as well as close-contact services, while the hospitality sector will be confined to takeaway services only.

The PA news agency understands there will be no changes made to the Christmas bubbling arrangements. The measures are set to be reviewed after four weeks.

Speaking this evening, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was “quite clear… that an urgent intervention was required”.

“Obviously the situation in terms of Covid is quite dire,” she said, adding that it was the “worst position” Northern Ireland had been in during the pandemic so far.

There is no point now looking back, we have to look forward… The message is back to ‘stay at home, work from home’.

Overrun emergency departments

Case numbers continue to rise in Northern Ireland despite the latest two-week circuit-breaker.

Health chiefs have cited low compliance with the regulations and guidance as a reason infections, hospital admissions and death rates remain relatively high.

Hospitals across the region are running over capacity.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service announced that paramedics from the Ireland 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 (EDs) 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 ED at Antrim Area Hospital.

‘Extremely challenging’

2.57155010 Source: PA

Ahead of today’s executive meeting, economy minister Diane Dodds said Northern Ireland was in an “extremely challenging position” in terms of the virus’s transmission.

“I have said over and over again how difficult this cycle of lockdown is for the economy, we have published data on the cost of the cycle of lockdown to the economy, but we’ll wait and see what the discussion at the executive brings forward,” she said.

The Department of Health’s dashboard revealed a further 12 people with Covid-19 had died in Northern Ireland, bringing the region’s toll to 1,154.

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Another 656 new cases of the virus were notified, while figures indicated pressure remained high on hospitals with 460 Covid-19 positive patients, including 32 in intensive care.

The hospital occupancy rate was 104%.

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