Face coverings to be made mandatory indoors in NI as R number may be at 1.8


Face coverings are to be made mandatory indoors in Northern Ireland after the R number – a crucial measure of how quickly coronavirus is spreading – jumped in the region.

The reopening of pubs and bars which do not sell food has also been delayed.

The devolved government’s health department said the R number rose from between 0.5 to 1 last week, to between 0.8 and 1.8.

Wearing face coverings will be mandatory in shops and other enclosed spaces from this Monday.

Arlene Foster says the reopening of pubs has been delayed

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Because of the concern around the level of community transmission and the desire to frankly prioritise the reopening of our schools… we have decided that it is prudent to pause the reopening of our public houses.”

The planned reopening date for pubs is now 1 September.

The new rules are being introduced after Northern Ireland reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since May.

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There have been 43 new infections, taking the total to 6,049. This compares to just 18 over the previous five days.

Health minister Robin Swann said the latest figure “underlines the fact that the threat from the virus remains very real”.

“If anyone still thinks COVID-19 is going to fade away, let them think again.”

R represents how many people someone with COVID-19 will, on average, pass the disease on to.

If it is above one, it means the number of coronavirus cases will increase exponentially.

However, if R is below one, the disease will eventually peter out as not enough new people are being infected to sustain the outbreak.

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‘No silver bullet for coronavirus’, says WHO

Scientists caution that as case numbers drop, the figure will shift with “volatility” and be “heavily influenced by small local clusters”.

“Community transmission remains low in Northern Ireland,” the devolved government said.

“Although it is important to note that the number of positive tests per day has increased threefold from early July.”

The Public Health Agency (PHA) said more than 20 coronavirus clusters have been identified in the region.

Of the 23 pinpointed since the test and trace programme went live on 25 May, 11 clusters remain open.

Some 168 cases of COVID-19 have been linked with these clusters, with nine of the clusters having had five or more cases associated with them.

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The PHA has defined a cluster as two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among individuals associated with a key setting.

Key settings which have seen a cluster include workplaces, retail or hospitality premises, domestic gatherings, and sporting settings.

However, the PHA said the transmission risk is highest in a household setting.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland executive has agreed theatres and concert halls can open from 8 August for rehearsal purposes. There is an indicative date of 1 September for the return of audiences with appropriate mitigations.

Ministers have also agreed to allow spectators to be present at indoor sporting venues from 10 August, as long as the operator can control access and make sure social distancing is observed.

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