18 December 2020 08:31
Health officials on Thursday proposed a six-week lockdown and approved a plan to reinforce the ambulance service with units from across the border. The deputy first minister, Michelle O'Neill, said the lockdown would start on Boxing Day and be reviewed after four weeks. "It's very clear from the positive cases we're seeing every day that an urgent intervention was required," she said. O'Neill said schools were also discussed and ministers agreed they should remain "open for now", but added the health and education departments will discuss more moves such as blended learning. Hospitals are over capacity, forcing ambulances at times to queue outside emergency departments for hours while patients wait to be admitted.
Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, warned this week that the region's health service was facing a "nightmare". "The sector now needs urgent financial assistance at the right level to offset previous debts rung up in the race to be Covid secure and make sure that it is covered during this lockdown which will take weeks, if not months, to see out," he said. Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown on Boxing Day amid rising COVID-19 infections and severe pressure on hospitals. The new restrictions, due to come into force at 00.01am on 26 December, will include the shutting of all non-essential shops as well the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants apart from takeaway services. The first week of the new lockdown will also see even stricter measures, with all sporting activity to be banned and essential shops told to close at 8pm.
However, Northern Ireland's hospitals have remained under pressure since the end of that two-week period. On Thursday, it was announced a further 12 people with COVID-19 had died in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of fatalities in the pandemic to 1,154. Another 656 new cases of the virus were also recorded, with 460 COVID-19 positive patients in hospitals, including 32 in intensive care. On Tuesday, queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside the hospitals. Michael Bloomfield, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), said the move was "relatively unusual" and reflects the pressure they are under.
A six-week lock down starting on Boxing Day has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive, it is understood. Measures will include the closing of all non-essential retail as well as close contact services, while the hospitality sector will be confined to takeaway services only. Northern Ireland and the other UK nations have previously agreed to allow three households to mix between 23 and 27 December. The new lockdown is being imposed in response to rising numbers of cases of the virus in Northern Ireland. It is understood the lockdown rules in Northern Ireland will include the closure of all non-essential retail, including garden centres and homeware shops that previously were deemed essential. The Executive has agreed to go into a six week lockdown that will begin on Boxing Day. Ministers met on Thursday amid growing concern about the rise of coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland. The Health minister said the restrictions will come into effect from midnight on Christmas Day, taking effect on the 26th. Non-essential retail will close, including garden centres, click and collect services, and homeware All essential businesses that will be allowed to open must close at 8pm for the first week of lockdown "It's very clear from the positive cases we're seeing every day that an urgent intervention was required," she said. Ms O'Neill said financial support would be put in place for businesses affected by the lockdown. Reacting to the announcement, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director Aodhán Connolly said it is vital that retail is able to trade at the end of the six weeks. "Schools were discussed and what was agreed is that schools would remain for now, but that health and education (departments) continue that conversation around things, for example, like blended learning and other things," she said. Earlier this week queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside the hospitals. The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service announced on Thursday that paramedics from the Republic are set to bolster their numbers this weekend. On Thursday, the Department of Health's dashboard revealed a further 12 people with Covid-19 had died in Northern Ireland.