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Six-week lockdown to start in Northern Ireland from Boxing Day

A six-week lockdown starting on Boxing Day has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive, it is understood.

Ministers met for several hours on Thursday into the evening as the region struggles to suppress the virus.

Measures to be announced are expected to include the closing of all non-essential retail as well as close-contact services, while the hospitality sector will be confined to takeaway services only.

The PA news agency understands there will be no changes made to the Christmas bubbling arrangements.

The measures are set to be reviewed after four weeks.

Robin Swann (Presseye/PA)
Robin Swann (Presseye/PA)

Case numbers continue to rise in Northern Ireland despite the latest two-week circuit-breaker.

Health chiefs have cited low compliance with the regulations and guidance as a reason infections, hospital admissions and death rates remain relatively high.

Hospitals across the region are running over capacity.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service announced on Thursday that paramedics from the Irish Republic are set to bolster their numbers this weekend.

Michael Bloomfield, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), said the move is “relatively unusual” and reflects the pressure they are under.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

On Tuesday, queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments (EDs) across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside the hospitals.

At one point 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the ED at Antrim Area Hospital.

Ahead of Thursday’s executive meeting, economy minister Diane Dodds said Northern Ireland was in an “extremely challenging position” in terms of the virus’s transmission.

“I have said over and over again how difficult this cycle of lockdown is for the economy, we have published data on the cost of the cycle of lockdown to the economy, but we’ll wait and see what the discussion at the executive brings forward,” she said.

On Thursday, the Department of Health’s dashboard revealed a further 12 people with Covid-19 had died in Northern Ireland, bringing the region’s toll to 1,154.

Another 656 new cases of the virus were notified, while figures indicated pressure remained high on hospitals with 460 Covid-19 positive patients, including 32 in intensive care.

The hospital occupancy rate was 104%.

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