COVID-19: Northern Ireland to put ‘stay at home’ message into law

Northern Ireland’s devolved government is to put the COVID-19 ‘stay at home’ message into law, the first minister has announced.

The nation is already in the second week of a six-week lockdown in which non-essential retail is closed, as well as pubs, bars and restaurants – apart from takeaway services – and there is an 8pm curfew for homes and businesses.

But Arlene Foster said rising numbers of cases and repeated reports of large social gatherings meant the message needed to be tougher.

She said Northern Ireland’s lockdown until now had not been enforceable but that it would now become law.

“We will be putting that message of ‘stay at home’ back into regulation, into law again.

“The message will be to stay at home unless you have a reason to leave home and those reasons will be put into law.

“We think that it is necessary given the huge rise of cases here in Northern Ireland.”

Mrs Foster has not ruled out keeping schools closed following a rise in the number of coronavirus infections.

She said the issue over whether schools would reopen would be discussed by the Executive on Tuesday.

Mrs Foster said the aim had been to “keep schools open for as long as possible” but that she would take “whatever action is needed based on the medical evidence in front of us”.

In his TV address on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people in England will once again be asked to stay at home.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced Scotland will go into lockdown for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.

Schools and colleges in Wales are to stay shut until at least 18 January.

Mrs Foster said Stormont ministers had “very difficult decisions to take” and described the combination of Northern Ireland’s rising COVID-19 infections and severe pressure on hospitals as “very dire situation”.

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