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New restrictions loom in North as nearly 2,000 new cases confirmed on island of Ireland yesterday

The figures seen yesterday in Ireland were the largest in several months.

Gardaí performing checks along the border in Donegal.
Gardaí performing checks along the border in Donegal.
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images

SPECULATION IS GROWING over further restrictions and possible limits on travel across the border after nearly 2,000 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded on the island yesterday. 

Cases of coronavirus have grown with alarming speed in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, prompting questions about whether further restrictions are needed. Similar concerns have been echoed by health officials in Dublin over an escalating number of cases. 

In Northern Ireland yesterday, 902 cases of the virus were recorded. On Friday, a record-breaking 1,080 new cases were confirmed. Yesterday evening, the Department of Health in Dublin confirmed that 1,012 new cases had been recorded

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said he was “very worried about the numbers we are seeing and how quickly they are deteriorating”.

Politicians in Northern Ireland had repeatedly insisted that – without extra funding from the UK government to support businesses and workers – more drastic action was not possible. 

On Friday, the UK Treasury announced new job support measures that would support businesses forced to close by new, local restrictions. 

The decision suggests that the Northern Ireland Executive may now consider further action to tackle the virus. 

The Irish government had also intervened, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney both pressing the UK government to provide whatever funding was necessary to support the North. 

Fears have been raised that there could be a ‘spillover’ effect across the border. Rates of Covid-19 are particularly high in Donegal and Monaghan. 

On Friday, Coveney said that there was a need to “act quickly” as there had been “a dramatic spike” in infection spread in Northern Ireland, particularly in the Derry-Strabane area. He also linked the high number of cases in Donegal to that outbreak. 

“We’re not in the business of erecting barriers on the border between North and South – we fought for three years to make sure that doesn’t happen as a consequences of Brexit,” he said.

“There may be two jurisdictions on this island with one landmass where populations move and can affect each other and so we have to have a common approach,” Coveney said.

Yesterday, appearing on RTÉ Radio One, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson and Donegal TD Pearse Doherty said that a focus on the border wasn’t “helpful”. 

“This is a region that the virus has got hold of in a very rapid way,” he said. “There are checkpoints, there are gardaí that have been out in the North.”

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“I think this screams loud that we need an all-island approach,” he added. “For people living in these communities, the border is not a reality to us.”

Doherty, whose party colleague Michelle O’Neill is the Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, indicated that more restrictions could be introduced there in the days to come. 

“I think it is clear from political leaders that there is a need for further interventions,” he said. 

Last night, Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said that “the island must act as a single epidemiological unit”.

“This is a time for joined-up action, cooperation and solidarity. It is time for the island to act as one,” he said.

There has been some criticism of the lack of cross-border co-operation during the pandemic, although senior health officials have been in regular contact since the start of the pandemic. 

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