Stormont ministers are considering ramped-up coronavirus restrictions amid a warning that a failure to take action will see hospitals overwhelmed next month.
The PA news agency understands that health minister Robin Swann has warned his ministerial colleagues that if no new measures are introduced by the end of November even a full lockdown in mid-December would not be enough to prevent the health service being swamped by Covid-19 cases.
It is understood proposals in a paper circulated by Mr Swann last night include the imposition of localised travel restrictions within Northern Ireland.
The Executive is meeting to discuss Mr Swann’s proposals on Thursday afternoon.
His recommendations come amid indications that the DUP, the only Executive party last week to oppose a full two-week extension of Northern Ireland’s circuit-break lockdown, is now shifting position on the question of new restrictions.
During last week’s acrimonious exchanges within the Executive, the DUP was vocal in its insistence that hospitality businesses needed to be given firm dates for reopening.
A majority of Executive ministers ultimately agreed to a proposal from DUP economy minister Diane Dodds that saw the extension of the circuit-break by one week, followed by a phased reopening of hospitality providers.
Cafes and coffee shops are due to reopen on Friday, along with close contact services such as hairdressers. The rest of the hospitality sector is currently due to reopen on November 27.
On Thursday morning, several senior DUP members highlighted that the medical and scientific evidence had changed from last week, with the infection rate (the R number) having increased from 0.7 to 1.
The party claimed many within the business community acknowledge that restrictions would be needed when R rises above 1.
DUP MP Gavin Robinson insisted the party had not performed a U-turn.
“You have to operate on the basis of the information that is available to you at any one time,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
“You have to be agile with the information that is available.”
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