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Good afternoon,

The Executive today has considered how best to arrest the creep of Covid-19 across our communities.

This is a challenge we face in common with the rest of the UK, and indeed other nations across the world. We have been open and transparent with you about the evolving picture, publishing detailed information on the daily dashboard.

This shows a 20-fold increase in cases here over the last two months, and a new weekly average of 90 positive cases a day.

The medical and scientific evidence is clear that this virus is active in all parts of Northern Ireland.

But there are areas where the spread is of particular concern: where the cases are double or treble the average rate for the province.

Our challenge in dealing with this virus is to constantly balance a range of factors to reduce risk of harm on lives and livelihoods.

And we are in a much better place now than we were earlier in the year. We now have a strong and robust data base and an effective track and trace system. This gives us all a level of certainty and knowledge about how this virus is operating and enables us to have confidence in identifying future patterns and trends. I want to commend all those public health workers who are delivering this important service, which frankly, is the envy of many other countries.

We have the opportunity now to push down a rising curve of infection and we must take it.

We all know that we are facing into the difficult Autumn and Winter months which traditionally see pressures on our health services. Our decisions today will protect those services and save lives.

It is evident that there are specific geographical regions which have concerning levels of community transmission.

We have agreed a number of limited restrictions will be put in place in the following postcode areas (GRAPHIC).

Broadly speaking, this is the town in Ballymena plus the area covered by BT43 and the Belfast City Council area and the areas covered by BT28 and BT29.

The medical and scientific advice is that we will see the greatest benefit from focusing on limiting social interactions between households. This means that, in these areas only, there will be:

- No mixing of households in private dwellings, with exemptions for bubbling with one other household, caring responsibilities including childcare, essential maintenance, supported living arrangements, visits required for legal or medical purposes, or marriage or civil partnerships where one partner is terminally ill;

- No more than 6 people to gather in a private garden from no more than two households;

These restrictions will come into legal force from next week but we are asking people living in these areas to take action now. Don’t wait for regulations, protect yourself and others now. Play your part in halting the spread now.

These measures will be in place for no longer than is necessary and will be reviewed in two weeks.

We are also making some recommendations to people living in these postcode areas:

- That they seek to limit unnecessary travel beyond the area where the additional local restrictions apply;

- And minimising visits to care homes and hospitals in these areas.

Further guidance will also be provided to health and care workers in respect of social interactions outside of the work place.

This is a proportionate and measured approach to specific issues that exist currently in identified locations.

The Executive has also considered today the current restrictions on leisure and hospitality sectors. Following detailed engagement with the sector and other stakeholders, a range of robust mitigation measures have been identified. I want to thank all of those who have participated in this process and welcome the honest and strong partnership approach you have taken.

We are satisfied that opening dates can now be set for the following businesses-

The previously indicated date of 14th September for soft play businesses has been ratified today.

And an indicative date of 21st September has been agreed for the reopening of bars which do not offer food.

Some will understandably ask on a day when we are setting new restrictions on some postcode areas, why we can give dates to lift others.

At the moment the villain is not the businesses where customer behaviours are regulated. It is in the home. It is the house party, the dinner party, the few people around for drinks.

Complacency is our enemy and it costs lives.

We have today set up a new Ministerial-led group to consider compliance and enforcement of the regulations, and this represents a concerted effort to ensure that everyone follows the letter and spirit of the law.

I am saying now to every citizen, whether a customer or business owner; a worker or employer, friend or family member, think carefully about your actions.

Ensure you do the right thing to protect yourself and protect others. Keep washing your hands regularly and often, maintain social distancing and where this is not possible, wear a face covering.

I join with the Minister for Education in welcoming the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance to the parents and carers should school children develop Covid-19 symptoms.

I am proud of how the people of Northern Ireland responded over the last six months. By pulling together, despite hardship and heartbreak, countless lives have been saved.

Our path through this pandemic may not be straight, but I am confident we can keep moving through recovery and towards renewal of our way of life. We are all in this together.

Stay safe and save lives.