New Covid lockdowns in Belfast and Ballymena could affect businesses and new students

  • The Executive has announced a series of lockdowns in Ballymena and the Greater Belfast Area, but offices and schools will continue to open as safely as possible.

    A sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases throughout Northern Ireland has prompted the Executive to announce a series of new lockdown restrictions designed to prevent a second wave and save lives. The restrictions are being applied to postcodes where significant increases in cases and hospitalisation have been found.

    The new lockdown restrictions cover the entirety of the Belfast City Council area and all of the town of Ballymena, in addition to the postcode areas BT28, BT29, and BT43. The restrictions will be made law next week to make them legally enforceable, but the Executive is asking anyone who lives in the affected areas to begin following the restrictions immediately. If you are within these areas, the following new rules apply:

    • "No mixing of households in private dwellings, with exemptions for: bubbling with one other household; caring responsibilities including childcare; essential maintenance, supported living arrangements; visits required for legal or medical purposes; or marriage or civil partnerships where one partner is terminally ill;"
    • "No more than six people to gather in a private garden from no more than two households;"
    • "Anyone living in these areas is asked to avoid unnecessary travel outside the restricted areas;"
    • "Care homes and hospitals in these areas will be advised to significantly curtail visits as soon as practicable. One member of a family will be permitted a visit once a week while these localised restrictions apply. More frequent visits may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, including palliative care facilities and those receiving end of life care."
    • "Medically vulnerable and older people living in these areas are asked to be particularly careful in following the advice on limiting household contacts, social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering, given the local levels of Covid-19."

    The new lockdown restrictions are designed to prevent gatherings that could spread the virus, and come less than two weeks after a wave of new students have arrived in Belfast. There have been reports of students throwing unregulated house parties that pose a serious risk of spreading the virus.

    Many people already aren't following current laws on the use of a mask in shops and enclosed spaces, and it's not clear how compliance can be enforced. For this lockdown, the Executive is setting up a group look into compliance and enforcement of the new regulations. The police already have the power to issue severe fines for people breaching coronavirus lockdown laws.

    The restrictions will be in place for at least the next two weeks, but the time may be extended after a review and new areas may be added or removed from the lockdown as infection statistics come in. The goal is to keep the restrictions low to minimise the impact on businesses while helping to halt the spread of the virus.

    The restrictions are expected to have some impact on businesses and students, as they call for only necessary travel to occur. While a lot of teaching is now happening remotely, Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University's Belfast campus are beginning to open some of their facilities in a limited capacity. Many city centre businesses have also been re-opening their offices on a limited basis.

    Health Minister Robin Swann commented on the changes: "There must be no complacency in the areas that are not affected by restrictions this time around. Covid-19 rates of infection can increase rapidly and with catastrophic consequences. We all have to maintain social distancing, keep washing our hands and wear face coverings when required. We all have to keep doing this to get through it."

    For the latest guidance, head over to www.nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus 

    Source: Written based on press release

     

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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