A number of changes to the Coronavirus Regulations will be introduced from Monday, the Executive has today confirmed.
Ministers agreed to minor relaxations after being updated on the course of the epidemic and the current Covid-19 transmission rate by medical and scientific expert advisers.
The following changes will be introduced on June 8:
– Those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with people from their own household or a person from another household whilst ensuring social distancing is observed;
– People will be permitted to leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of an animal or animals;
– Outdoor marriages and civil partnership ceremonies will be allowed, with number of people attending limited to 10;
– Outdoor sports facilities will be permitted to re-open;
– The conduct of business by outdoor non-food retailers will be permitted, including new and used car retailers; retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries/trailers; retailers of caravans or motorhomes, and retailers of agricultural or other large machinery; and
– The conduct of business by non-food retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits and/or with a greater propensity for larger store areas will be permitted. But only where those outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park.
On Monday, the Executive also announced plans to allow hotels and other tourist accommodation to re-open from July 20, although this will only be possible if virus transmissions rates continue to decline and a final decision to allow this reopening can only be made nearer the time.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The decisions by the Executive are consistent with the guiding principles in our five step plan to recovery. We have listened to the scientific and medical advice and taken these proportionate steps at this time.
“We understand the impact these draconian regulations are having on families and the desire to return to a way of live before Covid-19. But Covid-19 is still with us, it is still circulating in the community and every relaxation we make to the regulations increases the risk of spreading the virus and increasing the transmission rate.
“That’s why it is important that people continue to restrict their activities in public and exercise their rights proportionately and responsibly, adhering to the guidelines on social distancing and good hand hygiene.
“We have only been able to make these relaxations because the public have followed the advice and flattened the curve of infection, protected the health service and saved many lives. It is important that we all stick the course now, so that further relaxations can be made in the future.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We have been tracking a number of indicators of the course of the epidemic very closely to monitor the impact of any changes to the Regulations. Last week the R number was at 0.9. We said we would move forward to further ease the restrictions providing the R rate did not rise above that position and today we had positive news. This has allowed us to make good on our intention to introduce further relaxations from the beginning of next week.
“Today’s news will be welcome progress for some areas of the retail sector but it is particularly significant for those people who have been shielding. We know this has been a difficult and lonely time for many people who have isolated themselves for their own protection and they can now look forward next week to meeting outdoors in limited circumstances and having a chance to reconnect with loved ones.
“These are further small, but important steps on the journey towards recovery. But they are not a signal of a return to normal. These easements are being made on the condition that public health advice is followed diligently. That is our best defence against the deadly virus we will have to live with for the foreseeable future.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “We are acutely aware of the harmful effects of the restrictions being in place, not least the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Executive is united in its commitment not to keep the restrictions in place any longer than is necessary.
“We are guided all the while by the scientific evidence and medical advice that allows us to make decisions on whether to retain or relax any restriction. Each one of these is a judgement based on an assessment of risk and benefit and is dependent on the compliance of the public in following all the crucial measures and public health advice that remain in place.
“I’m pleased that we have been able to confirm some further relaxations to the restrictions today. However, we must remember that the Coronavirus Restrictions Regulations were introduced to save lives and that remains our top priority as we move through each step of recovery.”