Coronavirus: morning update

Raft of relaxations announced on another busy day for NI Executive

Coronavirus: morning update

Caravan parks, allowed to reopen from Friday.

By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan


NORTHERN Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Physical distancing between individuals may in certain circumstances be reduced from two metres to one provided appropriate mitigations are in place, ministers decided today.

However, the optimum safe distance between people remains two metres, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill emphasised.

The announcement was one of a series of measures approved by the Executive as the R rate for Covid-19 remained between 0.6-0.9.

Ministers sanctioned an indicative timetable of further relaxations during June, July and August which will be implemented if the R rate remains below 1, including the:

* Resumption of contact sport training (29 June)
* Reopening of betting shops (3 July)
* Resumption of further close contact services including tattoo parlours, piercings and spas (6 July)
* Reopening of indoor gyms (10 July)
* Reopening of outdoor leisure playgrounds (10 July)
* Reopening of libraries (16 July)
* Competitive sports (17 July)
* Limited numbers of outdoor spectators permitted (17 July) with numbers increased at a later date (31 July)
* Reopening of seated venues including cinemas and bingo halls (29 July)
* Reopening of indoor sports courts and skating rinks (7 August)
* Reopening of arcades (29 July)
* Leisure centres and soft play areas (7 August)
* Socially distanced indoor spectators permitted (28 August)
* Open air museums (late August)

First Minister Foster and deputy First Minister O’Neill also confirmed the following relaxations will take effect over the coming weeks:

* Opening places of worship from Monday, 29 June;
* Indoor training for elite and grass roots athletes, 29 June;
* Holiday and tourism accommodation, including holiday apartments, homes, cottages, bungalows, caravan parks and campsites from 26 June;
* Travel to stay in a second home from tomorrow, 26 June;
* The re-opening of hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee shops from 3 July;
* The re-opening of visitor attractions from 3 July; and
* The re-opening of nail, hair, beauty, barbers, tanning salons, electrolysis and acupuncture from 6 July.

In a reference to the updated physical distancing advice, First Minister Foster told the Executive press briefing: “Everyone’s objective should always be to stay two metres apart from those from other households, wherever possible. However, a minimum one metre distance between individuals can be considered acceptable in circumstances where appropriate mitigations are made.

"This issue is, of course, of particular relevance to the hospitality industry and we will need to work closely with that sector. The deputy First Minister, myself and the Economy Minister will meet with representatives of the hospitality sector to reinforce our expectations on that front.”

Welcoming the timetable for future relaxations, Deputy First Minister O’Neill stressed: “Let me be clear. Our ability to confirm these dates will be dependent on our control over the transmission levels of the virus, closer to the time. We need to be open about the fact that we may need to amend these dates in light of the emerging situation.

"The Executive is prepared to step back if the need arises. We are making good progress and everyone should take hope from that but the threat from Covid-19 still exists. We must remain vigilant and continue acting with social responsibility.”

The decision to provide an indicative timetable for further easements was welcomed by the Health Minister Robin Swann.

Minister Swann said: “The Executive has been able to confirm further progress in our recovery strategy today, as well as provide an indicative timeline for future easements.

“In the event of any significant outbreaks or increase in transmission the Executive has agreed that this timeline will be kept under review. None of this is without risk and will be subject to advice from our scientific and medical experts closer to the time of each proposed relaxation.

“We must emphasise that recovery and the application of public health guidance go hand in hand and it is vital that all sectors, businesses, and individuals take the necessary actions that are required to protect us all and limit the spread of Coronavirus.”

Communities Minister Carál Ni Chulín also welcomed the indicative dates for sport.

Minister Ni Chulín noted: “The schedule agreed today by the Executive provides further details on how sports will resume their activities at all levels and sets out indicative dates, which are subject to review.  It provides clarity and gives Governing Bodies, clubs, venue operators and participants time to plan for a safe return to training and eventually to competition.

"It has been agreed that our elite athletes will be permitted to access indoor training facilities including gyms and swimming pools. These changes are important to help athletes and teams prepare for major events such as the Olympics and the Paralympics Games in Tokyo and Beijing.”

The Minister added it was vital that the owners and operators of sports facilities ensure appropriate monitoring regimes are in place at their venues.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots confirmed today that Northern Ireland’s 25 zoo licence holders can reopen their businesses to the public from 3 July.

All current zoo licence holders will be able to reopen in line with Executive’s decision to relax its restrictions in respect of visitor attractions. However the move is conditional upon the rate of transmission of Covid-19 remaining under control.

Licence holders will also be expected to ensure the Public Health Agency guidance on hygiene is followed and that measures are in place to maintain social distancing.

Minister Poots said: “I am aware that, due to previous necessary restrictions, these businesses and their animals were facing very uncertain times. However, they will now be able to commence bookings, plan for visitors and, most importantly, generate income to look after the animals in their care.

"Not only will the re-opening of these businesses help provide them with much needed financial stability, it is also a move towards restoring a sense of normality which can dramatically improve general wellbeing. I would also stress the need for visitors to act responsibly when attending a zoo and continue to play their part in reducing Covid-19 risks for everyone.”

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