Christmas Covid rules: Strong guidance to be issued on Christmas rules

Christmas Covid rules: Strong guidance to be issued on Christmas rules

Strong guidance will be issued on Wednesday by London and the devolved governments about how people should celebrate Christmas this year, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

Mrs Foster spoke after a call involving Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and leaders from the other governments.

She said people needed to take “personal responsibility” over the festive period.

There was a need to ensure people were not left alone at Christmas, she added.

“The decision to allow people to come together is a recognition that Christmas is such an important part of the year, but we do have to give very strong guidance,” Mrs Foster said.

“Isolation and loneliness are huge issues, we have to balance that against keeping people safe.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the four UK nations had “unanimously” agreed to keep the relaxations in Covid-19 restrictions for Christmas, but that Scotland and Wales were to issue strengthened guidance.

The temporary rules, which allow three households to meet indoors in a Christmas “bubble”, and at places of worship or an outdoor public space, apply from 23 to 27 December.

Northern Ireland has a window from 22 to 28 December to allow time for people to travel.

When the changes were agreed in late-November, Mrs Foster said she hoped the announcement would give people space to plan over the holiday period.

On Wednesday, a further eight deaths linked to Covid-19 were recorded in Northern Ireland, taking the Department of Health’s total to 1,143.

There have been 510 more positive tests, meaning there have been 59.631 cases overall.

There are 457 Covid-19 inpatients and 87 confirmed outbreaks in NI care homes.

Mrs Foster explained that she would wait to see what recommendations Health Minister Robin Swann would present at Thursday’s executive meeting about further restrictions before coming to a firm position.

The difficulty “is the law of diminishing returns”, the first minister outlined.

“We’ll wait to see where the R-number is, and hear about hospital admissions.

“It is about taking responsibility, but at the end of the day people have to take their own decisions.”

Michelle O’Neill said people planning to meet others over Christmas need to be “very careful” about limiting their contacts.

She said there was no doubt “that an intervention is required”, but the timing of action by the executive needed to be a priority.

The deputy first minister said she was prepared to make the “right decision” on restrictions and not the “popular one”.

“I am up for doing whatever is required so I’ll work with Executive colleagues tomorrow to try and arrive at a position that actually delivers that,” she said.

She continued that it is a “very difficult time”, however, “Christmas will be here next year also”.

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