Covid restrictions extended for one week in NI
Covid-19 restrictions will be extended for one week in Northern Ireland, sources said.
Some areas of the locked down hospitality sectors will partly reopen next Friday.
The Democratic Unionists and ministers from smaller parties in the powersharing administration backed the proposal made by Economy Minister Diane Dodds.
Sinn Fein voted against and the nationalist SDLP abstained after days of wrangling which have left businesses in limbo.
PA understands the partial reopening of the hospitality sector next Friday will include:
– Close contact services, including hairdressing, beauty treatments and driving lessons, resuming on November 20 by appointment only.
– Unlicensed premises, including cafes and coffee shops, reopening on November 20. Restricted opening hours to 8pm. No alcohol can be consumed in these premises.
– All other sections of hospitality that have been closed during the circuit-break will open on November 27.
– Pubs and bars permitted to sell sealed off-sales from November 20.
A Sinn Fein source said the party voted against the proposals 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 is understood health minister Robin Swann backed the proposal as a way to avoid all the regulations lapsing at midnight on Friday.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Today the Executive agreed to a two week extension of the regulations with coffee shops, cafes and close contact services opening a week earlier.
“While the SDLP was pleased that the additional financial support we have been pushing for was also agreed, SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon abstained on the vote as she could not in good conscience support measures that fell short of protecting against plunging us into more restrictions just before Christmas – even two weeks would have risked that.”
The parties have been divided over whether to give primacy to medical advice to keep hospitality closed to hamper spread of the coronavirus or to reopen part of the economy to save livelihoods.
The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party voted for the breakthrough proposals.
It built on Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long’s earlier hybrid proposal to break the deadlock by adding a definite date when the rest of the hospitality sector can open its doors.
The fourth meeting of Stormont Executive ministers in four days started just after 4pm on Thursday afternoon.
The deaths of another 15 people with Covid-19 were announced on Thursday, along with 548 new confirmed cases of the virus.
Ministers have been at loggerheads, with three proposals on the executive’s next pandemic response being voted down during fractious exchanges within the administration.
The DUP has used a contentious voting mechanism to veto two proposals from Mr Swann to extend the circuit-break measures – one proposed a two-week extension, the other a single week.
Hours earlier, hotelier Bill Wolsey was among scores of business owners who have voiced frustration.
“Our politicians are a bit like track and trace – not fit for purpose,” he told the PA news agency.
“How can I be sitting here and not knowing if I am able to open tomorrow? How do we get to this state?”