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Announcement expected as Cabinet meets to discuss possible Level 4 restrictions in border counties

It follows a decision by the Stormont Executive to close schools for two weeks.

Updated Oct 14th 2020, 6:45 PM

CABINET IS MEETING this evening to discuss the possibility of implementing Level 4 restrictions in border counties in response to the situation in the North. 

Level 4 is being considered for Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan in the wake of Northern Ireland’s decision to impose new restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, which include closures of schools, pubs and restaurants.

The meeting is due to start around now with an announcement expected later this evening.

It is understood that a planned approach for the border counties was discussed last night at a senior level, with a high-level civil service committee also meeting earlier today to discuss the prospect.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that schools across the country will remain open despite ongoing concerns about the rise in Covid-19 cases.
The Stormont Executive has decided to close schools, pubs and restaurants for a number of weeks to curb the spread of the virus north of the border.

Pubs and restaurants in the region are set to close for four weeks from Friday, while schools will close for two weeks until 2 November from Monday (though this will coincide with a week off for mid-term).

“It was the right move by the Executive in my mind to bring in restrictions. We are watching the situation right across the country, including the border counties, NPHET are looking at it on a daily basis, I’m looking at it, government is looking at it on a daily basis,” Donnelly said.

The Government here also discussed the possibility of extending the October mid-term break last week, but speaking this afternoon, Donnelly said that schools south of the border would not be closing at present.

“The decision as of now is that the schools remain open, much to the annoyance of my three children who on a daily basis are trying to get me to reconsider that with colleagues,” he said.

“But certainly as of the weekend and as of right now, the plan is for the normal [mid-term] break to happen.”

He added that positivity rates demonstrate that schools are relatively safe compared to other settings.

I am in favour of keeping the school open. I received a comprehensive report looking at the positivity rates in schools versus the community and the information I’ve been given is that schools are safe within the context of a world where we have Covid.

The minister also addressed plans about whether the Government would consider whether to introduce further restrictions border counties.

Latest figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) show that Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan have the highest 14-day incidence of Covid-19 per 100,000 population in the country, at 412.2, 354.9 and 312.8 respectively.

Ahead of this evening’s meeting of Cabinet, Donnelly said that the Government remains conscious of the Northern Ireland Executive’s introduction of new restrictions today.

“I think it’s the right decision. We’ve been in very close contact with our colleagues in the North at a political level, at CMO level and at an official level, an at a clinical level,” he said.

“The situation is of concern. Their case numbers are several times per day what we’re seeing when you adjust to population.

“As to what might happen here, that’s under consideration on a daily basis as it always has been. It’s something that NPHET are looking at on a daily basis and something I will continue to discuss with Cabinet colleagues.”

Donnelly added that he did not want to speculate about what may be decided at Cabinet.

“I don’t want to preempt anything in terms of what may or may not happen with Levels, I don’t think that’s useful,” he said.

NPHET is not scheduled to meet until tomorrow.

Off licences

As part of the new restrictions in Northern Ireland, off-licences are set to close from 8pm compared to 10pm in the Republic. 

The Health Minister said it would not be appropriate for people to travel to go to the off-licence. 

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“Level 3 in this country says stay in your county except for work, education and essential purposes. I think you’d be hard pressed explaining that a trip to the offy between 8pm and 10pm across the border counts as an essential trip,” he said. 

Asked however whether this advice extends to people in the six counties, Donnelly said it does not. 

“That is a matter for people living in the six counties, it is a matter for the Executive,” he said.

- With reporting by Christina Finn and Rónán Duffy

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