Northern Ireland will begin its so-called “circuit breaker” lockdown later, amid worries that it may need to be extended – and calls for greater powers of enforcement.
The tightened restrictions come into effect at 6pm, and will see all pubs and restaurants close unless they offer a takeaway service.
Schools will close for two weeks from Monday.
Michael Allen, Principal of Lisneal College in Derry/Londonderry, says there is “a real concern” that pupils may be forced to stay away for longer than a fortnight if Northern Ireland’s infection rate fails to decrease.
“There’s absolutely no guarantee of a return in two weeks because the messages have consistently been inconsistent throughout,” he said.
“Especially with education, we’ve seen so many U-turns, we just take it one day at a time.
“There’s a worry among teachers that if the landscape changes, then could be another U-turn.”
Northern Ireland’s “circuit breaker” means:
- Pubs/restaurants are closed
- Schools are closed
- Hairdressers/beauticians are closed
- Off licence sales stop at 8pm
- Indoor sports are stopped
- Overnight stays in other homes are banned
Mr Allen’s school is located in the Derry Strabane Council area, where the 14-day incidence rate is almost 1,600 per 100,000 people: the highest in the UK.
The school has had 10 positive cases in the past fortnight, with another 60 pupils currently self-isolating.
Despite this, and the disruption for exam year pupils in particular, Mr Allen says morale is good, but is calling for greater enforcement of the restrictions.
“In order to enforce this, I think they [the Police Service of Northern Ireland] will need greater powers.
“People have to take personal responsibility, but because there’s so much at stake, if it’s not implemented properly, it will be a case of kicking the can down the road. It could mean an awful lot of sacrifice for nothing.”
That call was echoed by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member Mervyn Storey.
The North Antrim MLA described the PSNI’s enforcement of COVID-19 regulations as “inconsistent and toothless” and called for a “ramping up” of policing during the lockdown.
Doctors in Northern Ireland remain to be convinced of the new rules’ efficacy.
Dr Tom Black is a GP in the hotspot Derry/Londonderry area as well as the chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland.
He said the new restrictions are “too little, too late” and called for tougher rules to be introduced.
Citizens in Northern Ireland are not alone in facing tighter restrictions.
Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Republic of Ireland’s three Ulster counties, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, have from today been placed on the fourth tier of the country’s five-tier alert system.
This means non-essential businesses are closed, with social gatherings and home visits banned, although unlike Northern Ireland, there are no plans to close the schools.