The Executive has today agreed to keep in place the Coronavirus Regulations following their second statutory review.
In consideration of the scientific evidence and medical advice presented to them, which shows that the R value is currently between 0.8 and 0.9, Ministers have decided that the restrictions must remain in place for now.
The Executive also considered its plan for a phased, strategic approach to recovery. Work on this plan is continuing at pace and Ministers are committed to bringing it forward to the public as soon as possible.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These Regulations are not easy for the people of Northern Ireland to live by. We understand the severe impact they are having on every aspect of life and society, and we don’t want to keep any restriction in place longer than is absolutely necessary.
“However, above all else our priority is still saving lives. Based on the evidence and advice provided to us by our scientific and medical professionals on the current transmission rates of the virus, and the significant level of risk in the relaxation of measures at this stage, we were not in a position to ease any of the restrictions following this most recent review.
“Before making our decision we considered all the evidence available to us. The scientific advice on R is very clear. Any relaxation in social distancing or other restrictions at this time will impact on the number of cases that we see in the future.
“The next statutory review of the Regulations will take place before 30 May but we are committed to keeping them under continuous review and if we reach a point where we can make changes to specific measures before then, we will do so.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We appreciate that the public were hopeful this most recent review of the Regulations would result in some changes that would give people more freedom during what are very difficult times.
“Maintaining R at less than one will minimise the direct harms resulting from the Covid-19 epidemic. If it rises above one, it will lead to an increase in cases, greater pressure on our health service and the possibility of needing to re-impose restrictions again. We need to take a very careful approach to ensure we keep R below one and prevent those consequences from occurring.
“This news will undoubtedly be disappointing for many people who have done a fantastic job of following the measures in place for the last six weeks; but I know that people will also understand that this is a precarious situation and lives depend on the approach we take at every juncture.
“We are appealing to the public to be patient and continue to abide by the regulations. It is important for people to have hope and see some light at the end of the tunnel; so please be assured that in the coming days we will provide further clarity around our gradual, phased approach to recovery.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The relaxation of any restriction is not without risk. Each requires detailed consideration of a complex set of circumstances and is a fine balancing act between controlling transmission of the virus and the detrimental impacts of having the Regulations in place.
“Our primary concern is saving lives in the short, medium and long term. We cannot risk the decisions we take now having damaging consequences in the future and it is for this reason that the Regulations must remain in place.”