Businesses across Northern Ireland reopened this morning after a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown but infection and death rates remain high, fuelling fears of a swift resurgence of the virus.
Shops, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas and gyms can reopen and normal church services resume. Pubs that do not serve food remain shut.
The region recorded 14 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday. There were 67 deaths in the past week, up seven on the previous week, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 1,099.
Officials also recorded 441 new cases on Thursday and said community transmission remained high, with the R value at around 1, meaning an infected person on average passes the disease to one other person. Hospitals are at 101% occupancy.
The region’s chief scientific adviser, Ian Young, said compliance with the circuit-breaker had been disappointing.
Some ministers in the Stormont executive are nervous the disease will roar back. “If there is a festive free-for-all with public health advice ignored, then it will cost lives and place unbearable pressure on our hospitals,” said Robin Swann, the health minister. “We must avoid these catastrophic consequences.”