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Northern Ireland extends COVID lockdown until 5 March

Northern Ireland’s lockdown has been extended to 5 March, First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann proposed the move to help drive down case numbers.

The plan was agreed following a meeting of the devolved government and Ms Foster said there would be a review of the situation on 18 February.

All breaking and live COVID news, including the Downing Street briefing here

An extended lockdown closing non-essential retailers, keeping schools shut to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began across Northern Ireland after Christmas.

Family gatherings are prohibited and police enforcement has been stepped up and although the rocketing tally of new case numbers has begun to ease off, hospitals are struggling.

They are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.

Ms Foster told a press conference after the meeting: “Following a detailed outline from health, highlighting continuing pressures on hospitals and intensive care units and the emergence of highly-transmissible variants the executive has agreed that the restrictions will be extended for four weeks.”

Asked if it was likely that lockdown would be extended to Easter, Ms Foster said: “We have to be proportionate and we have to only do what is necessary.”

A woman walks past a government message in Belfast

Tougher lockdown restrictions were introdcued across Northern Ireland after Christmas

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “We know we are asking a lot of everybody.

“To be very honest with the public, we don’t know what will come after that… we did discuss as an executive today the fact that there may well need to be further restrictions but it will depend on what we all do now.

“It’s within our control in terms of our own behaviours around what we do in the next number of weeks to try and prevent that being the case.

“There is no doubt there are better days ahead but we need to keep working together.”

While the news did not come as a surprise to business leaders, they expressed concern about the economic damage of the move and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to “redouble efforts” to get business support to companies as quickly as possible.

Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland director, said: “News that the Northern Ireland-wide lockdown will be extended is understandable given the worryingly high prevalence of the virus.

“While this comes as little surprise to business, the economic damage cannot be underestimated.”

Ambulances at the entrance to the emergency department with a number of the vehicle with patients awaiting to be admitted, at Antrim Area Hospital, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland, as the emergency department and hospital is currently at full capacity.

Hospitals in Northern Ireland are expected to face great pressure this weekend

She urged the UK government to look into extending the successful Job Retention Scheme to the end of June “to protect jobs and livelihoods at risk”.

And she added: “Governments across the UK and Republic of Ireland must work together on fuelling the much-needed economic recovery.”

A further 21 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Northern Ireland have died.

Another 732 new cases of the virus have been detected, according to the Department of Health on Thursday.

There are 806 COVID-positive patients in hospitals, with 70 in intensive care.


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