By Ian Graham
BELFAST, Aug 6 – Northern Ireland halted its plan to reopen all pubs and ordered citizens to wear face masks indoors on Thursday after reporting its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since May.
The British region reported 43 new cases on Thursday compared to a total of 18 in the previous five days, although it has not reported a death related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, since July 14.
“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,” First Minister Arlene Foster told reporters.
While bars operating as restaurants are allowed to open, those serving only alcohol will likely have to wait until September at least, she said.
“Forty three people tested positive in this past 24 hours. People might say that’s not a huge number, but it’s indicative of a trend, and that’s why we have to take action now, because we want schools to open in September,” she said.
The move comes days after reopening of pubs was postponed in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, which has seen the average number of daily cases double in recent weeks.
Foster said Northern Ireland would also make masks mandatory from Monday in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible, with “light touch” enforcement planned.
“I regret that. I wish people would wear them from a voluntary basis,” she said. (Reporting by William James, Ian Graham and Conor Humphries; editing by Stephen Addison and Barbara Lewis)