Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland’s north west face tough new restrictions to stop a pandemic which is “raging” through the area, Stormont ministers said.
The border city of Londonderry and nearby town of Strabane together have one of the highest levels in the UK and the number infected is doubling every five days.
Hospitality businesses are to be confined to takeaway, delivery and outdoor dining and many will close, the industry warned.
People are urged to limit their use of public transport and work from home if possible, with all “unnecessary travel” within or to and from the Derry City and Strabane council area to be avoided.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The virus is very much raging through the community.”
She added: “I recognise that this news will come as a hammer blow to businesses in the north west.”
Stormont ministers agreed the extra curtailment, to last at least a fortnight, during an urgent meeting on Thursday.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: “We do not get a second chance.”
Other measures include:
– Hotel services will be limited to residents and funeral and wedding events.
– Indoor sports training will be restricted to individuals only;
– Sports fixtures will be held without spectators;
– No exercise classes;
– A maximum of 15 will be able to gather anywhere in the affected area outdoors.
Curbs have also been imposed in neighbouring Co Donegal in the Irish Republic after the rapid advance of the virus over recent weeks.
A total of 323 have been infected per 100,000 in Londonderry and Strabane over the last seven days.
The reproductive rate of the virus is at two or higher.
Mrs Foster said: “We have an opportunity to turn back the tide of infection and we must seize this.”
She warned tougher penalties were coming for those who flouted the rules.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was asking for a joined-up, collective approach to an emergency situation.
“It is really alarming to see the rise in cases in that area over the course of the last six or seven days.”
Colin Neill, chief executive of pubs and restaurants group Hospitality Ulster, said it was a devastating blow.
“The imposing of further restrictions on top of tight legally enforceable rules will mean closure for many as they won’t be able to meet the requirement, such as outside space, and with the weather getting colder, this will no longer be viable.”
On Thursday, Stormont’s Department of Health announced a further 259 cases of Covid-19.
Two further deaths have been recorded.
Foyle MP Colum Eastwood, who represents the Derry area, said: “If we’re honest, the cautious attitude we all took at the start has slipped, people aren’t always wearing face masks in shops, unnecessary journeys have become routine again and compliance is not as good as it should be.
“The hard truth is that unless people change their behaviour immediately, we’re going to lose more friends, neighbours and family members.”
He called for more official support for businesses in the area.
“These restrictions will be challenging.
“People in our communities are naturally sociable, entrepreneurial and active.
“But they are absolutely necessary to relieve pressure on our health service and protect each other.”
Households across Northern Ireland have been barred from mixing indoors in private homes.