Covid restrictions extended for one week in NI

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Lockdown restrictions on hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland will be extended for one week after a lengthy political wrangle exposed Stormont divisions.

Hair and beauty salons and premises without an alcohol licence like cafes and coffee shops can reopen next Friday, with hours restricted to 8pm.

Driving lessons can resume by appointment only.

Pubs and bars will be permitted to sell sealed off-sales from November 20.

DUP economy minister Diane Dodds told the BBC’s Newsline programme: “What we have to do is bring certainty to people in their lives in the run up to Christmas.

“We have tried to bring forward a proposal that is balanced and proportionate and that the health minister supported.

“That is the only way forward for an Executive of five parties.”

Sinn Fein voted against the proposal because it ran contrary to the guidance from Stormont’s medical and scientific advisers to extend the circuit-break in its entirety for two weeks.

It was outnumbered around the ministerial table as ministers faced mounting public criticism over the delay.

The party’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The expert health advice from the chief medical officer (Dr Michael McBride) this week could not have been clearer that any move away from a two-week extension of the current interventions would result in excess deaths.

“That’s stark. It means more lives being lost.”

Days of political rancour as this Friday’s deadline for a decision before current regulations lapse loomed have left businesses in limbo.

The Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party also voted for the breakthrough proposals.

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The choice became the quick but wrong decision or to fight and get us to a better or balanced decision.

“Sometimes compromise does not come easy and it has to be fought for to achieve it.”

Ms O’Neill warned of the repercussions.

She told Newsline: “We potentially are coming back to this situation again before Christmas.

“This is not a position that any of us want to be in.”

It was the fourth meeting of Stormont Executive ministers in four days.

Mrs Dodds said it was not her intention to return to the same situation as before Christmas.

She added: “No matter what we do or do not do, there may be need for further interventions at a further stage, maybe even before Christmas.

“The virus is new and unpredictable and difficult to work with.

“We have to make sure that there is a pathway for people to earn their living and put food on the table and that we learn to live with the restrictions of this virus.”

UUP health minister Robin Swann backed the proposal as a way to avoid all the regulations lapsing at midnight on Friday.

Mr Swann said that while there are signs of hope on the horizon, the next few months will remain “extremely challenging”.

He appealed to everyone to keep fighting back against Covid-19.

“It is no secret that I wanted a different outcome from the Executive. However, the decision today is preferable to restrictions falling and all hospitality opening this weekend,” he said.

“I could not countenance the consequences of that happening.”

He added : “Restrictions on our daily lives will have to continue to help stop the spread of the virus. If I have to recommend further interventions to the Executive to prevent vital services being overwhelmed, I will not hesitate to do so.

“My job is to protect the health service and the health of the population.”

The proposal built on Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long’s earlier hybrid plan to break the deadlock by adding a definite date when the rest of the hospitality sector can open its doors.

The deaths of another 15 people with Covid-19 were announced on Thursday, along with 548 new confirmed cases of the virus.

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