A four-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown has been announced in Northern Ireland to curb soaring Covid cases. The restrictions are the toughest introduced anywhere in the UK.

On Wednesday, First Minister Arlene Foster announced strict new measures to tackle the Covid pandemic in Northern Ireland. The move sees pubs, restaurants and bars shut for a month, effective from 6pm on Friday, while schools will close for two weeks from Monday.

The first minister said she was aware of the impact this would have on people’s lives and paid tribute to young people as they deal with this “difficult time.”

We fully appreciate that this will be difficult and worrying news for a lot of people. The Executive has taken this decision because it is necessary, and we discussed the impacts in great detail.

Eateries offering takeaways and delivery will remain open, as will gyms and retail premises. Further measures include limiting social bubbles to ten people and the probation of alcohol sales after 8pm from off-licences and supermarkets. Similar to measures introduced in Italy on Tuesday, indoor sport and organized contact sport is banned, apart from at elite level.

There has already been widespread criticism from the hospitality sector, which claims that one in eight jobs in the industry have already been lost this year. Neil Moore of the union Unite said: “Hospitality workers woke up this morning to news of a second lockdown, there’s mass anxiety around jobs and livelihoods from workers who feel they are being kicked whilst they are down and will once again be made to pay the price for this global pandemic.”

Foster’s circuit breaker lockdown comes two days after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the introduction of a three-tiered lockdown system to tackle the Covid pandemic in England. So far, only Liverpool and Merseyside have been hit with the highest-level restrictions.

Northern Ireland recorded 863 new Covid infections on Tuesday, taking the country’s total to 21,898 cases. Nearly half of Northern Ireland’s cases have been recorded in the last two weeks. Derry City and Strabane are the worst-hit areas in the UK and one of the worst-hit areas in Europe, with an infection rate of 969 per 100,000 people.

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