Nothern Ireland steps up restrictions to curb COVID-19 spread

First Minister Arlene Foster is due to announce the restrictions in a special sitting of the Assembly.  Source Presseye  PA

First Minister Arlene Foster is due to announce the restrictions in a special sitting of the Assembly. Source Presseye PA

Earlier, Mrs Foster also vowed to support businesses and individuals affected by the new measures, saying: "For those who will be impacted by any restrictions that we agree, we will stand with you, and we will help you and financially support you as best we can".

United Kingdom health officials are meeting Wednesday to discuss whether to add other areas of northern England - including Manchester and Lancashire - to the country's highest virus risk tier, meaning additional measures such as closing pubs could soon be imposed there.

It comes after Sir Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader, called for a two to three-week "circuit breaker" lockdown in England as he accused the government of having "lost control" of the coronavirus pandemic. The total number of cases now stands at 23,115.

In the past 24 hours, 1,217 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

"We fully appreciate that this will be hard and worrying news for a lot of people".

On Tuesday night in Liverpool, revellers poured into the streets to dance and taunt police as pubs closed ahead of the tough new restrictions that could keep them shuttered for months.

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Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson wrote on Twitter: "These pictures shame our city, attacking our fearless police officers is unacceptable".

Arlene Foster was responding to a claim from the British Medical Association NI that only a full lockdown could have prevented the health service falling off a Covid cliff edge.

The scheme agreed by the executive will double the original payment rates, but will only be eligible to business forced to close as a effect of the new region-wide restrictions. The new three-tier system forces pubs and bars that don't serve meals to close.

The government also advise the public to work from home unless unable to do so, not to travel unnecessarily, and universities and further education to deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible with only essential face-to-face learning where that is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course. 201 people are now in hospital with coronavirus, up from 164 on Wednesday, with 24 in intensive care.

The measures will be reviewed regularly but could last as long as six months, the government says.

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