Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland will be required to close again as the country heads into a two-week circuit breaker lockdown next week, even though the sector was due to begin a phased reopening today.
The new restrictions will cover two weeks from 27 November until 11 December.
Unlicensed premises such as cafés are permitted to reopen from today with an 8pm curfew, and pubs and bars allowed to sell sealed-off sales. However, these businesses will have to close again next Friday, and other areas which were due to reopen on 27 November will have to remain closed, meaning many businesses will have been closed eight weeks by the time reopening is permitted.
Under the new restrictions, all hospitality must close except for accommodation for essential travel, as well as takeaway and delivery, and food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals.
The Executive took the decision after modelling indicated it offered a greater likelihood of avoiding further restrictions before Christmas.
Ministers heard yesterday that the R number was around 1, and that while the current restrictions have had some positive impact, hospital inpatients numbers are still at a higher level than the first wave and are declining slowly.
First minister Arlene Foster said: "The Executive has been presented today with the sobering prospect of our 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 27 November to reset and drive down infection rates right across Northern Ireland.
"This is not the position we had hoped to be in as the current phase of restrictions comes towards an end. The R rate has unfortunately not dropped as far, or for as long, as had been estimated. We have taken some time today to look at the reasons for this. Sadly it is clear that a careless minority have significantly undermined the sacrifices of the many.
"So I want to take this opportunity to say to those who feel it's acceptable to flout public health advice, think again.
"We all need to work together to save our hospitals, to save Christmas, to save lives."