Northern Ireland closes schools in effort to combat COVID-19

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LONDON (AP) — Northern Ireland introduced the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, closing schools, pubs and restaurants in a effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The restrictions include a two-week closure for schools and a four-week shutdown of pubs and restaurants, except for takeaway orders. The announcement came after talks among political parties that stretched from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“This is not the time for trite political points,'' First Minister Arlene Foster told lawmakers at the regional assembly in Belfast as she announced the decision. “This is the time for solutions.''

The move came as the U.K. government debated whether to extend tough new social restrictions to more parts of England as its three-tier plan for slowing the spread of COVID-19 takes effect.

U.K. health officials are meeting Wednesday to discuss whether to add other areas of northern England — including Manchester and Lancashire — to the country's highest virus risk tier, meaning additional measures such as closing pubs could soon be imposed there.

Only the northern city of Liverpool was placed in the highest risk category when the plan was unveiled Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being criticized by all sides two days after announcing his three-tier approach that seeks to curtail a fall resurgence of the virus. A report released Tuesday showed that the government’s science advisers had urged his government to install much tougher measures, including a two- to three-week national lockdown.

The opposition Labour Party has called for that advice to be followed, while some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party say the measures already in place go too far and are damaging Britain's virus-damaged economy.

Britain already has Europe's deadliest outbreak, with over 43,000 confirmed deaths.

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Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


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