Coronavirus: Northern Ireland bans mixing between households

Restrictions aimed at preventing ‘more draconian measures’, says first minister

Peter Stubley
Monday 21 September 2020 21:45 BST
Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster removes her face covering before announcing new restrictions
Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster removes her face covering before announcing new restrictions (PA)

Northern Ireland has banned households from mixing indoors in an attempt to avoid a wider lockdown as coronavirus cases rise across the UK.

First minister Arlene Foster said the restrictions – which previously only applied to areas with higher infection rates – would be extended across the country from 6pm on Tuesday.

The new measures state there must be “no mixing of households in private dwellings” unless it is covered by an exception such as childcare and medical visits.

No more than six people, from no more than two households, can gather in a private garden. Children aged 12 in those two households are not included in this limit on numbers.

Ms Foster said the restrictions targeted household mixing indoors because it “provides one of the best opportunities for the spread of the virus.”

She added: “These are limited restrictions which I hope by taking action at this early stage means we can prevent the need for more draconian measures.”

The first minister also warned that the executive were examining how to clamp down on any failure to comply with the restrictions – directly referring to house parties in south Belfast's student Holyland district and a pitch invasion by Gaelic Athletic Association sports fans.

“That kind of behaviour isn't just a risk to those present, but of course for everyone they subsequently come into contact with,” she said.

“I'm putting you on notice that we intend to take this matter very seriously.”

Previously, the restrictions were applied to specific areas including greater Belfast and Ballymena in Co Antrim.

However, nearly 400 new cases had been reported in the last 48 hour period, with “substantial” increases across the country, Ms Foster said. Two more deaths were reported over the weekend, bringing the total to 577.

“This is not returning to lock down. Doing nothing was not an option but neither is returning to full lockdown.”

However, pubs that do not serve food – which have been closed since the height of the crisis – will be able to open on Wednesday.

In Wales, which already had stricter household mixing regulations, four more counties in south Wales will go into local lockdown from 6pm on Tuesday.

The Welsh government said Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent and Newport will be placed under the same restrictions as those brought in for Rhondda Cynon Taf earlier this month. Similar restrictions apply in Caerphilly.

Residents will not be able to enter or leave the areas unless they have a reasonable excuse such as they cannot work from home or need to obtain food and medical supplies. People will no longer be able to meet anyone they do not live with and all licensed premises will have to close at 11pm.

Elsewhere in Wales people cannot gather indoors in groups of larger than six or with anyone who is not a member of their household or extended household, unless they have a good reason. The limit of six does not apply to children under 11.

The Scottish government is also considering further measures such as a “rolling lockdown”, which would shut down pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues, playgrounds and church services for two weeks. People would be told to leave their homes “for essentials and outdoor exercise only”, according to a leaked document.

In most of Scotland adults can meet indoors and outdoors in groups of up to six from no more than two households – not including children under 12 from those two households.

However tougher restrictions apply in seven council areas including Glasgow City. Residents cannot host people from any other households in their home or make a social visit to another household, unless they are part of an extended household.

Boris Johnson is due to confirm extra restrictions for England at the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon. The “rule of six” currently bans any social gatherings of more than six people – although it does not apply to single households of more than six people, weddings, funerals and work meetings.

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