An order for people in Northern Ireland to stay at home will become legally enforceable on Friday, it has been confirmed.
he advice is to be put into legislation from midnight on Thursday, with additional powers being given to the PSNI to enforce the measures.
The move was agreed by the Executive after it met on Tuesday, along with the tightening of other measures.
Amongst the additional restrictions agreed are:
- Private garden gatherings – maximum of six people from one household or support bubble only, with children under 12 counting towards the permitted total.
- Gatherings reduced to maximum of six people from two households. Children under 12 are now counted towards the permitted total.
- Outdoor exercise permitted with one person from another household – to allow, for example, those living alone to go for a walk with a friend.
People will only be allowed to leave home for medical needs, to buy food or to exercise. Those who cannot work from home will also be allowed leave.
It was agreed the measures will last until February 6 with a review expected on January 21.
Schools in Northern Ireland are also set to undertake remote learning until the mid-term break, it was also confirmed.
First Minister Arlene Foster said discussions on exams are ongoing with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, with a decision to be made by Thursday.
Mrs Foster said the rising coronavirus cases and hospital admissions were causing “grave concern”.
She added: “We confirm that all educational establishments will move to remote learning until the half-term break in the middle of February.
“It will be reviewed up the end of January. But we want to give those educational establishments the vision ahead into February. So, that is what is happening.
“That applies to primary schools, post primary schools and indeed to nursery schools as well.
“Childcare, however, will continue, even if that is in an educational setting. Childminders will be able to operate as well.”
Mrs Foster denied the Executive had failed to agree on a way forward for exams.
She said: “Our educational grading and our GCSEs and A-levels are very integrated into the wider UK system.
“There’s ongoing discussions with Gavin Williamson, secretary state for education in Westminster, actually the Executive have mandated our education minister to get clarity for these issues.
“By the end of the executive on Thursday, we will have complete clarity in relation to GCSEs and A-levels.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decision to close schools was a reflection “on how serious the situation is” with the pandemic.
She said an Executive meeting could be held on Wednesday to discuss the issue in relation to exams and called on the Education Minister to bring forward proposals.
Childcare and special education schools are to remain open, the Deputy First Minister said.
Speaking after the Executive meeting, Ms O’Neill said: “The message will be stay at home.
“This will provide additional powers to the PSNI, for example to be able to return people to their homes when they actually come out for reasons that are not allowed under the reasons that you can actually leave your home.
“There are also additional restrictions to household mixing. So, in private homes and gardens, both indoor and outdoor gatherings will be restricted to members of one household, or a member of your support bubble.
“There are obviously some exemptions that are for people who live in homes so those things will carry on.
“Outdoor and indoor gatherings will be restricted. The current position is that 15 people can meet outside that will be reduced to six people. Again, that’s a necessary intervention at this time.”
There is still little clarity on transfer tests for entry into grammar schools, which were initially cancelled only for the Association for Quality Education to announce they will hold a single exam in February.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed a further 18 people in Northern Ireland had died after testing positive for Covid-19. 1,378 new cases of the virus have been reported.
It brings the death toll to 1,384 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 81,251. Some 12,487 people have tested positive in the past seven days.
Of the 18 fatalities, 11 happened within the current reporting period, from 10am on Monday to 10am on Tuesday, while the remaining seven deaths happened previously.
There are currently 577 Covid patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland, with 45 in intensive care and 34 requiring ventilation. Hospitals are operating at 101% capacity.
A total of 131 care homes are dealing with outbreaks of the virus.
Executive discussions are ongoing on new measures set to be imposed in Northern Ireland and a sitting of the Assembly has been scheduled for Wednesday to brief MLAs on decisions taken.
Here’s how Tuesday unfolded: