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The Northern Ireland Executive have confirmed a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, but what does that mean?

Considerably tighter restrictions will be effective from Friday

The Northern Ireland Executive have today announced that a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown will be effective from this Friday, as the battle against Covid-19 continues.

Speculation around new restrictions has been circling since an MLA allegedly leaked the draft paper on Monday evening. This was criticised in Stormont this morning in an exchange between the First Minister and Pam Cameron MLA.

Speculation also came, following reports of disputes in Stormont yesterday over the extent of restrictions being implemented, with negotiations ongoing until the early hours of this morning.

The new restrictions are firstly not a return to the national spring lockdown. However, there is uncertainty around whether a similar full lockdown will repeat itself, should the cases continue to rise in the way which they are.

The announcements were made this morning by First Minister and DUP leader, Arlene Foster. The Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill MLA was not present as she is self isolating following contact with a positive case and is working on government matters virtually. The DFM has since tested negative.

Sinn Féin Vice President and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is presently self isolating

The new restrictions will firstly mean that all schools will close on Monday for 2 weeks. This will also include the forthcoming half term break with school students expected to return on 2nd November.

Big changes will also be seen to the hospitality sector here in Northern Ireland. From this Friday, the sector will see closure for all units with exception of those offering takeaway and delivery services. The restrictions have also positioned that all relevant outlets will be required to close at 23:00. Supermarkets and off licenses have been instructed that alcohol cannot be served past 20:00.

Social bubbles and interacting with other houses is seemingly staying put, with no more than six people from two households permitted to mix in an outdoor environment such as a garden. The restrictions to place an emphasis that nobody is to sleep over in a private dwelling, unless part of a person’s social bubble.

The announcement from Stormont also stated that no indoor sport or organised contact sport involving mixing of households will take place, this with the exception of teams at elite level. However, there has been no clarity on the parameters being used to define an elite level team.

Furthermore, close-contact services are to close with the exception of those serving for essential health needs, and mobile hairdressers and make-up artists are prohibited from working in homes or ‘homers’, as the appointments are commonly referred to within this industry.

The circuit breaker means that gyms can remain open for individual training but that no group classes such as Spinning or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can take place. It stated also that places of worship will remain open but that face coverings are mandatory when entering and exiting, in accordance with similar measures which were in place for the hospitality sector, prior to circuit breaker closures.

The move to introduce a circuit breaker lockdown has garnered a deal of controversy across both the Westminster benches and the devolved administrations, as the battle against coronavirus continues.

Since the first case, 21,898 cases in Northern Ireland have been recorded, with a surge of cases coming through in the past number of days. Only yesterday, a further 7 deaths were recorded and another 863 cases.

Key areas for concern have been Derry City and Strabane, where the infection rate is currently 969 per 100,000 of the population, making it the worst impacted and most infectious council area in the wider UK.

Queen’s University Belfast has also been the cause for concern with reports emerging last week that nearly 400 students and staff were self-isolating, many of these in the Elms BT9 Malone Road accommodation, commonly resided in by first year tenants.

The future of university teaching has been put under the spotlight, with the circuit breaker lockdown stating that virtual teaching is to be facilitated as much as possible, with the exception of classes that must be delivered in person. However, Queen’s University Belfast is yet to clarify, which courses will be included here.

This academic year, Queen’s University Belfast has been the only college on the island of Ireland still providing face-to-face teaching. However, with the new restrictions effective as we enter week five of semester one, a statement is expected soon.