- in Science
It was the first week in many that updates on the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying restrictions didn’t fill the top spots in news reports.
You’d be forgiven if this led you to think it’s been a quieter week on the coronavirus front.
But there’ve been plenty of important updates, giving us new (pencilled-in) dates for our diaries and with cases on the rise – a reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet.
Here’s a look at what happened over the past few days and where that’s left us.
Science Cases on the rise
On Wednesday the number of positive Covid-19 tests recorded in Northern Ireland passed 6,000.
As of Friday 7 August, the current number of positive tests in Northern Ireland stood at 6,064, and the death toll at 556.
The number of positive cases being recorded each day is now three times that recorded in July, however it is still well below the figures from April and May, at the height of the pandemic.
Science Concern about clusters
Kent Amusements and the Barbican SuperValu were among those in the town closing their doors after cases were identified.
On Monday, Bonbon sweet shop announced it was closing for a deep clean. Having reopened on Tuesday, it announced on Wednesday it would be closing as a staff member had tested positive for the virus.
A total of 23 clusters have been identified in Northern Ireland since May, 11 of which are still active, according to the Public Health Agency.
Science Analysis: Robert Cuffe, Head of Data Science at BBC News
There were only about 25 local authorities in the UK that saw more than 20 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 2 August.
Newry, Mourne and Down is one of them.
Cases there have risen sharply since the week before that, but it’s still a long way off the case numbers that saw Leicester in England go into lockdown back in June.
There were about 150 cases per 100,000 people in a single week there.
Eight out of the other 10 local government districts in NI saw fewer than three cases per 100,000 people in the week to 2 August.
The Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid and East Antrim each saw about 10 cases per 100,000, both rising slightly compared to last week (from 7 and 8).
Science Face masks from Monday
The wearing of face coverings in shops and other enclosed public spaces will be compulsory from Monday 10 August.
First Minister Arlene Foster made the announcement on Thursday after a meeting of the executive and said enforcement would be “light-touch”.
Up until then, the wearing of face masks in shops had been strongly encouraged, but was not mandatory.
Mrs Foster said the move was about “trying to give confidence to people who feel vulnerable and maybe have been shielding”.
Science Wet pubs can’t open…
Indoor pubs that do not serve food had been set to reopen on 10 August.
However, those keen to get back indoors with their pint will have to wait until 1 September at the earliest, as the date was pushed back.
Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the decision on pubs was “a catastrophic blow” that “removes the right to earn a living for people who work in our traditional pubs”.
“Business failure” and “job losses” would be the result of the decision, he said.
Science But schools can
There was good news for young people with the decision that all pupils will return to school full-time in Northern Ireland from the beginning of term.
The Education Minister Peter Weir said the executive had made the decision a “strategic prioritisation” at its meeting on Thursday.
The move means previous social distancing measures between pupils will be “relaxed”.
The first minister was asked if there had been a “trade-off” between keeping alcohol-only pubs closed and the plan to fully reopen schools, and said: “I make no apology for the fact that we’re prioritising schools, I think it’s important for our young people that we get them back into schools.”
On Friday, however, unions voiced concern at the plans, with one threatening legal action if teachers were put at risk.
Science So, what’s next?
A public information campaign encouraging the take-up of face coverings is expected to begin in the coming days.
On the reopening of schools, Northern Ireland’s chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Young said he thought it was “inevitable there will be some cases and outbreaks associated with schools” but the test, track and trace programme would “carefully monitor this”.
Updated guidance on the reopening of schools is due be issued next week by the Department of Education.
However, the familiar message that was again delivered by politicians this week was that the virus still exists and we must continue to socially distance.