Pubs and restaurants in the northwest of Northern Ireland are facing tough new restrictions to curb soaring rates of coronavirus, Stormont ministers have said.

Hospitality businesses in the Derry City and Strabane Council area are to be confined to takeaway, delivery and outdoor dining only.

People will be urged to limit their use of public transport and work from home if possible, with all "unnecessary travel" within or to and from the area to be avoided.

Hotel services will be limited to residents, as well as funeral and wedding events.

Sports fixtures will be held without spectators, and a maximum of 15 people will be able to gather anywhere in the affected area outdoors.

Museums will remain closed and there will be no exercise classes, but sports training will be exempt.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said she recognises that this news will "come as a hammer blow" to businesses.

She said Northern Ireland must seize on the opportunity to "turn back the tide of infection", but insisted that this "is by no means a lockdown".

Both Ms Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill made it clear they do not feel it is currently proportionate to introduce a so-called 'circuit break' lockdown across Northern Ireland.

The restrictions will come into effect on Monday 5 October and are expected to be in place for at least two weeks.

Colin Neill, the Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the new measures will come as a shock to the hospitality sector, but they are not surprising.

"Public health and control of the virus is the number one priority, but it will, without a doubt, be a devastating blow to our sector at this critical time", he said.

With Donegal at Level 3 of the Irish Government's restrictions, Mr Neill said the new measures in Derry and Strabane mean the entire northwest area "will effectively limp along".

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood, who represents the Derry area, said: "If we're honest, the cautious attitude we all took at the start has slipped.

"People aren't always wearing face masks in shops, unnecessary journeys have become routine again, and compliance is not as good as it should be."

Mr Eastwood said that "the hard truth" is that unless people change their behaviour immediately, "we're going to lose more friends, neighbours and family members".

He also called for more official support for businesses in the affected area.

Earlier, Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann warned that the region is facing a "very serious situation".

Speaking at a meeting of the Stormont Assembly's health committee, Mr Swann said: "If the current trends do not change, if attitudes to this virus do not toughen, in six weeks' time our hospital inpatient numbers will exceed those witnessed during the first wave - and that isn't even the worst-case scenario."


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Another 259 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said, bringing the total number of infections to 11,952.

Almost 2,000 have been diagnosed in the last seven days. Two more deaths were also reported today, taking the total to 581.

Covid-19 related deaths have accounted for 10.9% of all deaths in Northern Ireland over six months, a government statistics agency has found.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) published the data relating to the 875 coronavirus-related deaths in the last six months.

The figures show males had a "significantly higher "rate of death linked to Covid-19 - 69.9 deaths per 100,000 of the male population compared with 45.8 deaths per 100,000 females.

Covid-19 rates were also found to be highest in the 20% most deprived areas, at 66 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 55.2 per 100,000 persons for Northern Ireland as a whole.

Meanwhile, 102 (11.7%) of the 875 Covid-19 related deaths were people of working age (aged 20-69), of which the largest group (40 perople; 39.2%) were in the skilled trades, elementary occupations or process, plant and machine operative occupational groups.

Separately, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said his officers have issued almost 1,000 penalty notices in response to the coronavirus regulations.

Appearing before the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Mr Byrne said the policing of coronavirus restrictions was a "matter of almost daily concern and scrutiny".