Further lockdown could destroy businesses, minister warns

A renewed lockdown preventing new coronavirus infections from soaring to 600 a day would destroy local businesses, Northern Ireland’s economy minister has warned.

The number of diagnoses is predicted to double every 10 days in a major onslaught on the health service if nothing is done, chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said.

He added a “circuit breaker” shutdown of up to three weeks may interrupt the virus’s spread but was not recommending that happens immediately.

Minister Diane Dodds said businesses were in a “perilous” state.

“The Northern Ireland economy cannot afford another lockdown. Those small shoots of recovery we are seeing would be destroyed.”

Another 220 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period, the Department of Health said.

Prof Young said: “In four weeks I would expect us to be, if nothing was done, I would expect us to be at at least 500-600 cases a day.”

He told the BBC’s Nolan Show it was not easy to translate the number of diagnoses into predicted fatalities.

“Even one death is a death too many and we know that there would certainly be deaths,” he added.

Holy Cross College in Strabane, Co Tyrone, announced it was shutting its gates on Wednesday morning after recording confirmed infections.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Two were confirmed on Sunday and two more on Wednesday. A deep clean of the secondary school for around 1,550 boys and girls was undertaken.

Malone Integrated College in Belfast reported a positive case among the teaching staff. Close contacts have been notified and the school reopens on Friday.

Principal Katrina Moore said: “As a result of our stringent protocol in place for tracking and tracing, we have been able to minimise the impact on staff and pupils.”

More than two-thirds of teachers in Northern Ireland are concerned about access to coronavirus tests, the NASUWT union said.

Pubs that do not serve food are reopening across Northern Ireland on Wednesday, despite fresh Covid-19 restrictions.

Joanne Shilliday, owner of the Hole In The Wall pub in Armagh city, said she had not expected to have to close for so long, but the building had weathered attacks and fires during the Troubles, and will survive coronavirus.

Coronavirus – Fri Jul 3, 2020
Pubs that do not serve food are reopening across Northern Ireland on Wednesday, despite fresh Covid-19 restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)

“It feels a bit like being back at the beginning – you don’t know what is ahead of you, but it’s nice to see the regulars back and have the staff back.

“We’ll get through it, we’ll do whatever we have to do, whatever regulations are in, we’ll do what we have to to stay open,” she said.

“The Guinness seems to be going down well so far.”

Pubs welcome back customers a day after additional restrictions limiting domestic gatherings were imposed across the country aimed at curbing spiralling infection rates.

There can be no mixing of households indoors, with some exemptions, while no more than six people from two households can meet in a garden.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Previously, the measures only applied to Belfast and Ballymena in Co Antrim.

Reopening of so-called wet pubs was pushed back on several occasions by the Executive while those that serve food were able to lift shutters at the start of July.

Northern Ireland’s leaders acknowledged on Tuesday that Stormont’s latest Covid-19 messaging had become confused.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the measures do not represent a second lockdown but should act as a wake-up call.

She and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill sounded the alarm as they called for a big push to curb the rising number of infections.

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