Pubs, restaurants and cafes in Northern Ireland will shut early to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, First Minister Arlene Foster said Tuesday, the latest tightening of UK restrictions.
From midnight on Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday) pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will be forced to close by 11:00 pm with no food or drink to be served later than 10.30 pm.
“Socialising later in the evening is considered to increase the risk of virus spreading,” Foster told the British province’s devolved parliament in Belfast.
“People adhere to the rules less strictly after consuming alcohol and in venues where they are used to mixing freely.”
Foster — the head of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — said there would be “no exceptions” within the entire hospitality sector.
“Weddings and other important social events will also be required to comply,” she said.
The curbs will bring Northern Ireland’s population of 1.9 million into broad alignment with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Since last week, pubs in England, Scotland and Wales have been forced to shut by 10:00 pm.
However there have been reports of jovial crowds spilling into the streets and crowding public transport at closing time, undermining the intended effect.
There have been 578 Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland, according to latest official figures, but the province is now seeing some of the steepest increases in four UK nations.
On Saturday, it reported 319 new confirmed cases of the virus — the highest daily tally since the pandemic began.
Of the 10,949 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland, 1,513 were diagnosed in the past seven days.
On Friday, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer and his Irish counterpart issued a joint statement urging citizens to “avoid all but necessary travel” across their common border.