No plan to change Christmas Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland

There is no immediate plan to change the Christmas Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland, despite rules being tightened in other parts of the UK, the PA news agency understands.

Government sources said meetings between the Executive and the UK Government had been continuing all day.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was an “evolving situation”.

Mrs Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Health Minister Robin Swann, chief medical officer Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young held discussions on the matter, following the Prime Minister’s statement.

The First Minister described it as a “useful briefing”.

“This is an evolving situation with the virus mutation,” she said. “It’s essential that we all play our part by following the regulations.”

It is expected that discussions will continue throughout the weekend.

It comes as Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly.

The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.

Many people set to travel to Northern Ireland from the affected areas in the rest of the UK will have their plans scuppered due to the travel bans announced on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland Executive decided last week to impose a six-week lockdown from December 26.

The first week of those measures will see the toughest lockdown yet in Northern Ireland, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.

Non-essential retail will close throughout the six weeks, as will close contact services. Hospitality outlets will be limited to takeaway services.

Organised sport will also be banned, with elite sport included in the prohibition for the first week.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have clashed amid a blame game over the region’s spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.

On Tuesday, queues of ambulances were witnessed at accident and emergency departments (EDs) across Northern Ireland as patients were treated in car parks due to a lack of capacity inside hospitals.

At one point, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the ED at Antrim Area Hospital.

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