Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Arlene Foster announces restrictions


Localised coronavirus restrictions have been imposed in Belfast and Ballymena amid soaring infection rates in County Antrim, Northern Ireland’s leaders announced today.

First Minister Arlene Foster and her deputy Michelle O’Neill confirmed the measures at a joint media briefing this afternoon – which was translated live by two sign language interpreters.

Amanda Coogan, 48, and Kristina Sinclair, 37, have communicated the Stormont briefings to those who cannot hear in British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language throughout the pandemic.  

Northern Ireland’s new localised restrictions are designed to limit social interaction between households, with members from two or more homes now banned from meeting in private dwellings.

Exceptions to this rule will include childcare provision and between households which have formed a social ‘bubble’ with each other.

First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured) announced localised Covid-19 measures at a joint media briefing this afternoon – which was translated live by two sign language interpreters (inset)

No more than six people, from no more than two households, will be permitted to meet in private gardens.

The localised restrictions, which will come into effect next week, will be in place for a minimum of two weeks.  

Ministers have also decided that pubs which do not serve food can provisionally aim to reopen on September 21. Pubs that do serve food were able to reopen at the start of July.

Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill denied they were sending out mixed messages, by beefing up some restrictions at the same time as loosening others.

They insisted there was a particular concern about the spread of the virus within households, while the reopening of ‘wet’ pubs would be accompanied by robust measures to limit social interaction.

The restrictions cover the Belfast City Council area and the BT28 and BT29 postcodes, which take in Crumlin and parts of Lisburn.

Amanda Coogan, 48, and Kristina Sinclair, 37, have communicated the Stormont briefings to those who cannot hear in British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language throughout the pandemic

Amanda Coogan, 48, and Kristina Sinclair, 37, have communicated the Stormont briefings to those who cannot hear in British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language throughout the pandemic

Northern Ireland's new localised restrictions are designed to limit social interaction between households, with members from two or more homes now banned from meeting in private dwellings

Northern Ireland’s new localised restrictions are designed to limit social interaction between households, with members from two or more homes now banned from meeting in private dwellings

They also cover Ballymena and the BT43 postcode area to the north of the town.

Anyone living in the impacted areas is asked to avoid unnecessary travel outside of them. Care home and hospital visits will also be limited in the affected areas.

Mrs Foster said in the areas impacted the case numbers were double or treble Northern Ireland’s average.

She said there was a need to ‘push down on the rising curve of infection’.

‘It is evident that there are specific geographical regions which have concerning levels of community transmission,’ said Mrs Foster.

The DUP leader added: ‘At the moment, the villain is not business, where customers’ behaviours are regulated.

‘It is in the home, in our homes, it is the house party, it is the dinner party, it is the few people coming around for drinks or coffee.

‘So complacency is our enemy and it cost lives and therefore today it is important that we say to you that compliance is all important.’

She said a new ministerial-led group had been set up to consider issues around compliance and enforcement of the regulations.   

The joint briefing was the first time Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill have appeared together since a furious row over Ms O’Neill’s attendance at IRA veteran Bobby Storey’s funeral.         

Exceptions to this rule will include childcare provision and between households which have formed a social 'bubble' with each other

Exceptions to this rule will include childcare provision and between households which have formed a social ‘bubble’ with each other

The joint briefing was the first time Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill (pictured) have appeared together since a furious row over Ms O'Neill's attendance at IRA veteran Bobby Storey's funeral

The joint briefing was the first time Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill (pictured) have appeared together since a furious row over Ms O’Neill’s attendance at IRA veteran Bobby Storey’s funeral

The restrictions cover the Belfast City Council area and the BT28 and BT29 postcodes, which take in Crumlin and parts of Lisburn

The restrictions cover the Belfast City Council area and the BT28 and BT29 postcodes, which take in Crumlin and parts of Lisburn

Ms O’Neill began her remarks by restating her regret at the funeral fall-out.

‘I do accept to the public messaging about the pandemic has been undermined by the controversy over the last number of months,’ she said.

‘It was never my intention that that would happen, but it did, and I regret that. So I want to rebuild trust with the public.’

The Sinn Fein vice president said the executive needed to take action on infection ‘hotspots’.

‘The picture at present is very concerning,’ she said.

‘The R number (number of people an infected person passes the virus to) has been consistently above one for a number of weeks, there’s been a progressive rise in Covid-19 cases since early July and, in recent weeks, we have seen a further sharp increase.’

Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill were joined by sign language interpreters Ms Coogan and Ms Sinclair for the briefing, with the pair appearing on screens behind the leaders and in live broadcasts.

The pair simultaneously translate important coronavirus updates into BSL and ISL, which have slightly different alphabets and act as separate languages for those who cannot hear.  

ISL is the primary language used by Deaf people in Ireland, whereas BSL is largely used in the UK. Though similar, they stem from different sign language families and their manual alphabets vary.

During the briefing, the executive’s chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said he hoped a full lockdown could be avoided.

‘I do not envisage going again into a full lock time other than as a complete last resort, I do not expect it to happen,’ he said.

‘There are also medical and scientific advances continually under way, we push forwards in terms of vaccine development, we have better treatments in terms of the most severely ill patients, which can reduce the risk of death by at least one third, and there are new testing strategies and technologies on the horizon with the potential to make a really substantial difference in how we can manage this situation as we go into autumn and winter.’

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