The Cabinet has agreed a nationwide ban on visits to households in almost all circumstances.
It has also agreed a move for Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal to Level 4 of the Government’s Living with Covid plan. The institution of Level 4 in the three counties would be put in place until November 10th.
Under Level 4, no visitors are permitted to homes and indoor gatherings and events are banned, wet pubs are allowed to remain open, but limited to a maximum of 15 people, and only outdoors. Public transport reduces to 25 per cent capacity and the recommendation is that it is avoided, and used only for essential workers or essential purposes.
Under the Living with Covid plan, Level 3 allows for “visitors from one other household only or own household only”, with the precise guideline to be determined by “prevailing public health advice for the county or other defined geographical area”. A memo brought to the Cabinet this evening recommends that the steps be taken in the three counties amid concerns about rising numbers of infection in the Border region and Northern Ireland, which instituted a period of restrictions earlier today in an effort to arrest the growth of the virus there.
Earlier on Wednesday, public health sources expressed concern not only about the high level of infection in the border counties, but around the entire country. In particular, the level of household transmission remains stubbornly high despite level three being in place nationally.
While there is evidence that the level of transmission in Dublin is being impacted by Level 3, it is not falling as quickly as public health officials would like. Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, along with his deputy Dr Ronan Glynn, met the oversight group led by Martin Fraser on Wednesday before theCcabinet meeting was agreed.
With the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) set to meet tomorrow, it was expected that escalated measures would be recommended.
There were 1,095 new cases and five further deaths reported in the State Nphet on Wednesday.
The 14 day incidence rate per 100,000 is 190.7 nationally, according to Nphet. The highest rates are in Cavan at 571 per 100,000, Monaghan 360 per 100,000 and Donegal at 353.7 per 100,000. Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan described the situation as “extremely concerning.”
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly has said that schools will remain open despite the decision to close them in the North.
When asked about people crossing the Border to access alcohol given the new 8pm restriction in the North, Mr Donnelly said he believed people would be “hard pressed” to convince authorities that a “trip to the offie” counted as an essential journey.
With the incidence of Covid-19 continuing to spiral upwards and with pressure on hospital beds Ms Foster told Assembly members that the hospitality sector will shut down for four weeks from Friday while schools will close for two weeks from Monda.
Ms Foster made her announcement on a day when a record 1,217 confirmed new coronavirus cases were reported by the North’s health department, bringing the total number of cases since the outbreak of the pandemic to 23,115. There were four more deaths, taking the total to 602.
There are now 164 people being treated for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland hospitals, with 24 in intensive care units and 17 of them on ventilators.
Under the new rules takeaways and deliveries will be allowed but pubs and restaurants must close for a four week period, said Ms Foster.
Off-licences and supermarkets will not be allowed to sell alcohol after 8 pm.
Churches can remain open but weddings and civil partnerships will be limited to 25 people. Receptions will not be allowed. This will apply from Monday.
Funerals will be limited to 25 people with no pre or post funeral gatherings.
No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sports will be permitted other than at elite level.
Gyms may remain open for individual training only. Universities will be advised to provide “distance learning to the maximum extent possible”.
Ms Foster also told the Assembly that the retail sector will stay open. She added however that “close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are not permitted to open, apart from those relating to the continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics”.
She hoped further support measures for those affected would be agreed by another meeting of the Northern Executive on Thursday.
“We understand that these interventions will be hard but they will not be in place for a moment longer than they need to be. I would ask everyone to work with us to save lives and protect our health service,” said Ms Foster.
Added Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, “We know this is hard and that people will be really worried about their livelihoods, but we will do everything we possibly can to make sure there are protections in place for families, workers and businesses.”