New Northern Ireland lockdown restrictions: Here is what we know so far

The Northern Ireland Executive have released new details

First Minister Arlene Foster MLA and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA have announced new lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland.

The restrictions come after a wave of new cases here in Northern Ireland. It’s no surprise that the restrictions have been added, following the remarks of Health Minister Robin Swann MLA.

In a plea to the public and other senior ministers, Swann said that lockdown restrictions would be imminent because, “If a foreign country had our figures we would be imposing quarantine on anyone returning from us.”

The First and Deputy First Minister making the announcement yesterday – Image: Pacemaker/BBC

Whilst there’s been some criticism around the ambiguity of the new restrictions, it will see new measures around a range of Northern Ireland postcodes.

These include the Belfast City Council region, Ballymena (BT43) as well as Lisburn and Crumlin (BT28 and BT29).

The measures outline that under new guidance, nobody can mix homes within these geographical parameters. However, there are some exemptions to these, acknowledging that a return to fully imposed lockdown is not what is being done.

If one house shares a social bubble with another, they are exempt from this. Also, those with caring responsibilities, namely childcare and assisted living arrangements, as well as the provision of essential maintenance works.

Exemptions have also been added to those who are terminally ill and wish to be married or enter a civil partnership or require travel for medical or legal purposes.

The new restrictions have been added in response to Northern Ireland having the highest rate of Covid cases in the UK per 100,000 people.

Bartering with the public to stringently follow the new guidelines, Foster plead for those living within the impacted postcodes to do all they can to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Whilst postcodes and councils have been used to determine new lockdown restrictions, it is unknown whether similar action will be taken in other councils with rocketing Covid cases.

The Executive have confirmed that such restrictions will be in place for at least a fortnight, however council areas such as Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Councils have seen similar increases to their cases.

Sinn Féin Vice President and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill wearing a face mask – Image: PA/Belfast Telegraph

So, with term due to commence next Monday 21st September, what does this mean for University students.

Both universities have been clear for quite some timethat as much face-to-face teaching will be facilitated. With this the Queen’s University Faculty of English have said lectures will be online but seminars will be in person in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Responding to the announcements made yesterday, a spokesperson for Ulster University said; “Ulster University is committed to protecting the health and safety of our entire Ulster community and across all our campuses in Derry~Londonderry, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Belfast, we’re working hard to ensure a safe environment with the cooperation of staff and students.”

They added, “We’re limiting numbers on campus, have installed one way systems and sanitisation stations, enhanced our cleaning measures, and we’re providing appropriate PPE to all staff and students.”

“All staff and students are strongly encouraged to stay up to date with and to closely follow all PHA guidance, including the reporting of symptoms and self-isolation.”

Ulster University’s Belfast campus which is also the Belfast School of Art. Image: Belfast Media Group 

Whilst many universities have been praised for their quick response to the pandemic through facilitating blended learning, criticism has also arose.

A petition has been launched to waive student tuition fees, as blended learning does not enable value for money under existing tuition fees which are as much as £9,250 per academic year.

It has received over 350,000 signatures and will progress to parliamentary debate at some stage in the near future.

Cover Image: SWNS