This morning I attending the opening of new premises for a buisness in Ballymoney - it was so good to see the economic activity going on in this part of NI and I congratulate Payescape and their 50 employees as they move forward. I also met with Mark in an Oragnisation Called CAN which helps those with learning disabilities live a full and active life - so hello to Mark and all at CAN in Ballymoney I hope you can hear and see me sending you good wishes from Stormont.
Despite the very positive visit I had to Ballymoney this morning we are in an urgent situation in another part of NI.
Recent outbreaks of infection are growing at an accelerated rate in certain areas.
In a few short weeks the Derry City and Strabane District Council areas have gone from having the lowest number of cases in the UK, to now being amongst the highest.
The rate of positive cases today in these locations is well in excess of 300 per 100,000.
And, on average, that rate is doubling every five days.
This is well above the average for other local government areas.
In fact, the rate of cases is now double and triple that of those areas which previously had been of most concern like Belfast, Mid-Ulster and Newry, Mourne and Down.
It is sobering to note that at the end of the summer, the North West areas sat alongside other lower infection areas like East Antrim- today their rates are ten times higher.
The R rate in the Derry and Strabane Council area is calculated as 2 or higher.
This rapid turnaround shows us the challenge we are all facing.
This virus moves swiftly, seizing every opportunity where people have perhaps dropped their guard or taken one chance too many.
And our collective response must be to tighten our defences and to join together to protect each other.
Today the Executive has considered a range of options, and it has tried to balance the impact that these will have on lives and livelihoods.
It is clear that measures such as the current household restrictions in place for whole of Northern Ireland are having some effect and have served to blunt the increase of cases in areas such as Ballymena and Belfast.
But stronger action is needed in areas where cases have continued to rise significantly.
We must act decisively to contain these outbreaks and prevent any spread to other part of Northern Ireland.
And we must control and drive down the rates of infection within this area.
The Executive has agreed on a range of new restrictions that will be geographical in nature and time-limited.
In addition to the existing household restrictions in place across Northern Ireland, the Executive has decided today to introduce the following measures in the Derry City Council and Strabane District Council:
- Hospitality venues will only be open for take-away, delivery and outdoor dining.
- Hotels can only provide services to residents
- No organised indoor gatherings should take place,in community halls or other such venues. Indoor sports is limited to individual training only, no exercise classes are allowed.
- Organised outdoor gatherings will be limited to 15 people and no spectators can attend sporting or other events.
- All museums, galleries and cultural attractions must close. Libraries can operate a call and collect service.
- We are asking people living in this area to work from home where that is possible, and to avoid any unnecessary travel.
- Similarly people outside this area should not visit or travel to it, unnecessarily.
- People are asked to walk, cycle or use private transport, shared only with members of their household where possible. if using public transport please follow social Distancing and wear a mask.
- Schools and colleges will continue to operate as well childcare services in the area.
- Church services will continue.
- Weddings and funerals will be able to go ahead, albeit with certain restrictions on any post-ceremony gatherings. We publicised guidance on this just yesterday
- Sports matches can go ahead without spectators.
- Outdoor gatherings for up to 15 people are permitted in non-domestic settings.
- If you run a business to homes or from your home, that can continue.
We understand that all restrictions on our daily lives are difficult and we have endeavoured to take a measured and proportionate approach. This is by no means a lockdown.
I recognise this news will come as another hammer-blow to businesses in the North West. Ministers have already commenced work on how further support might be provided for those adversely impacted by these measures.
We recognise also the absolute need for stronger enforcement of existing restrictions. Further Ministerial discussions on this issue took place this morning.
The Minister for Justice has agreed to conduct a rapid review of the fines we currently have in place, offering the prospect for a greater deterrent moving forwards.
We are asking people to work with us and with each other to halt the spread of this deadly virus.
The restrictions we are putting in place today are designed to address the specific issues in one location.
But we all must take heed of the warning.
This virus is active in all areas across Northern Ireland.
I have spoken before about the lag period between the identification of positive cases and severe illness requiring hospitalisation which will lead inexorably to a rise in deaths.
We have seen a steady rise in hospitalisations and now have 70 people who are Covid positive in hospitals. That rate is currently doubling every nine days. We cannot allow that to continue.
We have an opportunity here turn back the tide of infection and we must seize this.
As an Executive we are taking action. And I would urge every person to consider how they can do this too.
The virus is passed from one person to another. So we must all take responsibility to block that transfer.
I’d like to thank all those who have made significant efforts to keep to both the spirit and letter of the law. To those who ignore the law and thumb their nose at what the Executive is trying to do - tougher penalties and enforcement is coming. I also welcome the positive engagement we continue to have with community, civic, policing and business leaders.
Through keeping to the existing restrictions and the new ones in the Derry and Strabane Council area, we can all stay safe and save lives.