Northern Ireland will reopen cafés and hair salons tomorrow - and then close them a week later - under a new proposal agreed tonight.

The Stormont Executive has decided to impose a strict two week "circuit breaker" from Friday, 27 November.

Non-essential retail, which was allowed to stay open during current restrictions introduced five weeks ago, will close at that time.

Pubs and restaurants had been gearing up to reopen on 27 November, but their doors will now remain closed.

The decision follows a warning from Health Minister Robin Swann that hospitals in Northern Ireland would be overwhelmed unless further action was taken.

The additional "circuit breaker" will be in place until Friday 11 December.

The measures are close to the full lockdown introduced in Northern Ireland in response to the outbreak of the pandemic in March.

All leisure facilities, including gyms, soft play areas and swimming pools will be closed. However, schools will remain open.

Stormont’s medical and scientific advisors had expressed concern that the R number, the reproduction rate of the virus, had increased from 0.7 to around 1 in recent weeks.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michel McBride has described this as a call to action for everyone in Northern Ireland to get through the Christmas period.

Last week there was bitterness and division around the executive table, when the DUP vetoed a proposal to extend restrictions.

While there was agreement tonight on the way forward, it was not the news that business owners wanted to hear.

The circuit breaker announcement follows a further 12 Covid deaths and 427 new cases recorded by Stormont's department of health today.

That is equivalent to more than 30 deaths and nearly 1,300 new cases in the Republic.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the executive has been presented with the "sobering" prospect of hospitals becoming overwhelmed within weeks.

"It is clear that a tough, carefully timed, intervention is required to give us the best chance to have a safe and happy Christmas, and further into the new year period.

"The executive has taken the decision to put in place a short, sharp circuit-breaker from Friday November 27 to reset and drive down infection rates right across Northern Ireland."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was a difficult decision.

She said: "It is difficult and challenging decision and as a mother and daughter I understand how difficult these new interventions will be on family lives.

"Given the gravity of the situation there is no other choice but to act now.

"Our health service and health workers are in danger of being overwhelmed if we do not intervene."

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There are 456 confirmed Covid-19 patients in Northern Ireland's hospitals, with 41 in intensive care units, 32 of whom are on ventilators.

Bi-weekly testing of staff and residents in its 488 care homes was introduced at the end of July.

On 12 October, there had been coronavirus outbreaks in 46 homes.

A month later, on 12 November, that had risen to 143. By yesterday, just five days later, that had risen further to 166.

The sharp increase has occurred despite a ban on visits to the homes and restrictions that have closed the hospitality sector.

Health authorities say the virus is being brought into the homes by staff who are unaware they are infected.

The executive is expected to discuss a proposal to introduce daily testing for all care home staff and other frontline healthcare workers.

Mr Swann has also written to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the possibility of a mass testing programme in Northern Ireland, similar to one introduced in Liverpool earlier this month.

Additional reporting PA