The Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive has said she believes that it is "contradictory" to impose a two-week so-called "circuit-break" style of restrictions from 27 November, after some of the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Stormont Executive last month were lifted earlier today.
Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill's comments come as the Department of Health in the North confirmed that 369 individuals had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours with a further 12 deaths reported. Two of those deaths were outside the 24-hour period.
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Ms O'Neill said she had registered her views with the Executive that she believes the public messaging around the "circuit-break" is confusing.
"I actually raised this to the Executive that it is contradictory and confusing as a public health message," she said.
"But the Health Minister and the health teams made the case that it was fine, saying that they factored that into the modelling and the Executive supports that decision. But I registered the fact that I do think it was contradictory."
The Deputy First Minister said the Executive had been told that "public heath teams, using modelling data, believe that measures from 27 November will allow space for those, for example, who need to plan to close".
She said: "They believe that the modelling suggests that these measures, when you factor in lag time, that this will keep the R-number at or below one into the new year."
The Deputy First Minister reiterated her party's call for alignment of measures on both sides of the border.
"We need strong cooperation and an all-Ireland approach to tackling Covid-19," she said. "We have to be as aligned as possible. All these contradictions could be ironed out with a more coherent approach."
Many businesses in Northern Ireland, which were closed under Covid-19 restrictions, reopened this morning.
However, they must close their doors again for two weeks from next Friday under the latest plan to stem the spread of coronavirus.
David Gough, owner of the Newton Brunch Bar in east Belfast, which previously welcomed international visitors to attempt their enormous Ulster Fry challenge, described the latest announcement as "devastating".
He said the "constant changing of the rules" is "killing businesses", and urged Stormont to ensure financial support is paid out.
Chairman of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland Council Dr Tom Black said the decision taken on Thursday by the Stormont Executive should have been taken five weeks ago.
However, he welcomed that the Executive was "being led by the science again", and had "made the right decision".
The Executive has agreed to introduce a two week circuit breaker from 27 November to slow the spread of #COVID19 in the community and protect the health service.— NI Executive (@niexecutive) November 19, 2020
More information at: https://t.co/Xc2bukIAIE
And here's a summary of the measures ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/oFRC2xsX9k
"We need this lockdown if we are going to take the pressure off the hospitals. The hospitals are at breaking point," he said.
"The decision that was made five weeks ago was the wrong decision, it was not severe enough at the time and it needed to be taken earlier.
"We should have brought in more severe measures five weeks ago if we were going to stop this happening now. It's happened, we have a lot of hard work to do."
The chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland said the "collective, co-operative and partnership approach" to combating Covid-19 virus is "very welcome" after the political disagreements seen in Stormont last week.
Dr Laurence Dorman, who is a GP in Kilkeel, Co Down, said GPs support the decision to reimpose restrictions from 27 November.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said GPs welcome "all measures designed to protect the health of the population" as these are difficult and political decisions.
Dr Dorman said that partnership and collaboration are the key features of the pandemic. He urged the public to play their part in supporting healthcare workers and patients by following all the guidelines and taking ownership of the approach to try to reduce case numbers.
He said hospitals in Northern Ireland are very busy but not overwhelmed as contingency plans are in place.
However, he said the high demand for hospital services impacts on normal services and that time-dependent services like hip operations and cancer surgeries are being deferred.
Additional reporting: Press Association