The North’s lockdown has been extended for a further month until April 1st. Ministers made the decision at a meeting of the executive on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, First Minister Arlene Foster said that while the number of cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were decreasing, the level of ongoing community transmission was still a cause for “significant concern” and therefore the executive had “reluctantly accepted the analysis from our health advisers that restrictions need to be in place for four more weeks”.
“What is clear is that we must proceed with great care and with caution. We need our decisions to be both safe and sustainable,” she said.
“I’m determined that through the proper sequencing of actions as we emerge from these restrictions that we leave lockdowns in the rear view, and that we do not step backwards again.”
The First Minister said she and the Deputy First Minister are to publish the decision-making framework for the North’s “pathway to recovery” from Covid-19 on March 1st.
Six further deaths with Covid-19 were reported by the North’s Department of Health on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 2,021. An additional 342 people tested positive for the virus.
In the North’s hospitals 418 patients with coronavirus are receiving treatment, and 51 people are in intensive care.
Non-essential retail and most of the hospitality industry has been closed since St Stephen’s Day under the lockdown measures in force in the North. People are required to work from home where possible, and should only leave the house for essential reasons.
The North’s Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy, said people may hear the new date of April 1st, Holy Thursday, “and then start to plan for Easter breaks or visiting . . . the advice would be not to be doing or booking anything for Easter weekend”.
The regulations will be reviewed on March 18th, when Ms Foster said further guidance will be given regarding Easter.
Schools are currently closed, but ministers agreed on Thursday that pre-school and nursery pupils, as well as those in P1 to P3, the first three years of primary school, will return to face-to-face teaching on March 8th.
Secondary school pupils in the key exam years of Years 12-14 – the final three years of schooling – are to return on March 22nd.
The younger children will have an additional week of remote learning from March 22nd, the week prior to the Easter holidays, in order to minimise the impact on infection rates.
No decision has yet been taken on the return of other age groups.
Some minor easements to the current lockdown restrictions were also approved, including click-and-collect services for shops selling baby equipment, clothing and footwear and electrical goods, from March 8th.
From the same date up to 10 people from no more than two households will be allowed to meet outdoors or in another public space.
— to www.irishtimes.com