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LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Wales diverges from Northern Ireland, England and Scotland to impose stricter Christmas Covid-19 measures and announces lockdown for December 28
Last updated: Wednesday, 16 December, 2020, 15:05
- Three week lockdown starting on Dec 28 to be considered by Executive
- Major concerns as coronavirus cases in Mid and East Antrim continue to rise
- 300 passengers stranded on ferry bound for Belfast from Liverpool
- UK cabinet minister says ‘Easter can be the new Christmas
Three week lockdown starting on December 28 to be considered by Executive on Thursday
The Northern Ireland Executive will consider introducing a third ‘circuit-breaker’ when a relaxation of restrictions ends on December 27, according to sources close to Stormont.
As infections continue to rise in Northern Ireland the First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, took part in an urgent phone call with the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, the First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and the First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford.
The call was set-up to discuss issues concerning the decision to relax restrictions for Christmas between December 23 and 27.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the call concluded with all four parts of the United Kingdom supporting a decision not to change the restrictions.
However, sources close to the Executive told us that one possible option that the Executive will discuss when it meets tomorrow concerns a ‘circuit breaker’ style lockdown lasting for as long as three weeks.
Speaking in Newry today deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill said she had “no doubt” that Northern Ireland would require some form of intervention after Christmas and signalled to the Health Minister, Robin Swann, that she will support whatever he brings before the Executive when it meets tomorrow.
“I think it is totally unacceptable that people are being cared for in the back of ambulances but that shows you our health service is under huge pressure so it is very clear to me that what we need is to have an intervention, what that looks like we will discuss at the Executive tomorrow,” she told media during a visit to Newry.
NI records second highest number of daily infections in almost three weeks
Northern Ireland recorded 510 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday December 15 - this is the second greatest number of daily cases and only the second time more than 500 cases were recorded in almost three weeks.
The total number of people to test positive for Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic now stands at 59,631.
A further eight people with Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, bringing the region’s toll to 1,143.
All four parts of UK agree ‘unanimously in principle’ to proceed with relaxation of restrictions for Christmas claims Boris Johnson
First Minister, Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill have supported a decision “in principle” to proceed with the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions between December 23 and 27, according to Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions that the four UK nations have agreed to continue “in principle” with the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.
He told MPs: “We should exercise extreme caution in the way we celebrate Christmas.
“We can celebrate it sensibly but we have to be extremely cautious in the way we behave.”
Talks took place on Tuesday and Wednesday involving the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
Mr Johnson told MPs there was “unanimous agreement” across the four nations “that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations”.
“We don’t want to criminalise people’s long-made plans,” he said.
“But we do think it’s absolutely vital that people should – at this very, very tricky time – exercise a high degree of personal responsibility, especially when they come into contact with elderly people, and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible.”
As Mr Johnson claimed unanimity across the four nations, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford set out his decision to deviate from the joint approach.
He said: “Here in Wales, the position is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.
“The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus.
“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends.”
300 passengers travelling on Stena ferry from Liverpool to Belfast disembark in Birkenhead after crew members test positive for Covid-19
More than 300 passengers were stranded on a ferry near Liverpool on Tuesday night after six members of the crew tested positive for Covid-19.
The 300 passengers are currently disembarking the Stena Line vessel Stena Edda.
The passengers will then board a separate vessel and should arrive in Belfast later on Wednesday.
Relaxing of Covid-19 Christmas restrictions to proceed despite concerns
The United Kingdom government is rejecting calls to change the way in which it intends to relax Covid-19 restrictions for Christmas between December 23 and December - however it is not yet known whether the Northern Ireland Executive intends to diverge from what was agreed by Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland two weeks ago.
There are some suggestions that the devolved administration in Scotland is considering a possible reduction in the number of days people from three different households would be permitted to meet up and mix indoors.
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the impact of the relaxation was “really uncertain”.
“There are two things happening over the period: one is that most workplaces and schools are closed, so that will result in reduced contact,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“On the other hand, if we all mix together and have a normal Christmas then we know that in a normal year most respiratory diseases and hospital admissions increase after Christmas anyway in a non-Covid year, so there’s clearly a risk, but it really very much depends on what people do.
“It’s very hard to predict and say ‘oh yes, this is going to be a disaster’ or ‘nothing is going to happen’ because it really does depend on what people decide do.”