virus fears  | 

Donegal at risk of longer lockdown as virus rate remains high

Eilish O'Regan and Senan Molony

Donegal remains at risk of living under higher levels of restrictions than other counties at Christmas despite moves to extend Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Cross-border traffic has been cited as one of the contributory factors behind Donegal’s high rate.

The Stormont Executive is to extend its circuit breaker for another week but some areas of the hospitality sector will partly reopen next Friday in the North.

The Republic will remain in a stricter Level 5 lockdown until early December and the fear is there will be some return to cross-border shopping from various counties as families head North where there is a greater selection of shops open.

Under Level 5, people should not go beyond 5km except for essential reasons.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said yesterday that Donegal is an outlier, with a 14-day Covid incidence rate of 282 per 100,000 compared with a national average of 135 per 100,000.

Questioned on whether Donegal will have to remain in lockdown for December, he said there is still time for “significant improvements to take place”.

Speaking in the Dail, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar ruled out a TD’s suggestions that the Army should be sent to the Border to seal off the Republic from Covid-hit Northern Ireland.

Crossings from the North “will cause serious problems”, warned Independent TD for Louth Peter Fitzpatrick, who is a former Fine Gael member. “We must do something about it.”

The Democratic Unionist Party and ministers from smaller parties in the powersharing administration backed the proposal made by Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

Sinn Féin voted against it and the nationalist SDLP abstained after days of wrangling which have left businesses in limbo.

The partial reopening of the hospitality sector in the North next Friday will include close-contact services, including hairdressing, beauty treatments and driving lessons, resuming on November 20 by appointment only.

While unlicensed premises, including cafes and coffee shops, will reopen on November 20, there will be restricted opening hours to 8pm and no alcohol can be consumed in these premises.

All other sections of hospitality that have been closed during the circuit-break will open on November 27. Pubs and bars will be permitted to sell sealed off-sales from November 20.

A Sinn Féin source said the party voted against the proposals because it ran contrary to the guidance from Stormont’s medical and scientific advisers to extend the circuit-break in its entirety for two weeks.

It is understood the North’s health minister, Robin Swann, backed the proposal as a way to avoid all the regulations lapsing at midnight on Friday.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Today the Executive agreed to a two-week extension of the regulations with coffee shops, cafes and close-contact services opening a week earlier.

“While the SDLP was pleased that the additional financial support we have been pushing for was also agreed, SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon abstained on the vote as she could not in good conscience support measures that fell short of protecting against plunging us into more restrictions just before Christmas - even two weeks would have risked that.”

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