Dublin —  Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown starting on December 26, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neil announced on Thursday as health authorities warned of a surge in Covid-19 infections.

The new restrictions include the shutting of all non-essential shops as well the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants apart from takeaway services, O'Neil said.

“It will be disappointing to many, but I think a lot of people would also have expected it. It's very clear that we needed an urgent intervention. I think this is the right decision by the executive,” she said.

Earlier on Thursday, health minister Stephen Donnelly told parliament that there had been a “serious increase” in cases following the relaxation of public health measures earlier in December.

Ireland has the second lowest infection rate in the EU after Iceland, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, after a six-week lockdown introduced in mid-October drove rates down.

The lead indicators “are all pointing to a serious increase in cases”, Donnelly said, speaking after what he described as a “very sobering” talk with the country's chief medical officer.

The head of the Irish Health Service Executive warned of an “explosive concoction” of factors pointing towards a surge in cases.

The government has focused on the reproduction number, which measures the number of people who become infected as a result of each positive case. It increased from 0.9-1 last week to between 1.1 and 1.3 this week, Donnelly said.

 Ireland reopened restaurants earlier this month and was due to lift restrictions on people visiting other homes and travelling around the country on Friday.



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