The Executive has today announced a further relaxation to the Coronavirus Regulations that will allow indoor visits to take place.
Indoor meetings of up to six people can take place from tomorrow, 23 June.
Indoor environments are still higher risk than outdoor meetings. Therefore this easement is accompanied by strong public health advice to limit the duration of visits; ensure good ventilation; maintain good hand hygiene; and practice social distancing where possible. The use of a face covering is also strongly advised.
The relaxation does not permit overnight stays and those who are medically shielding are strongly advised to continue following the advice that remains in place for that group until the shielding period is paused on 31 July.
This easement makes provision for informal childcare arrangements between families and friends to resume.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The restrictions we have all been living with for the past three months have been an enormous burden borne by every member of our society. The limitations on our ability to meet loved ones has been particularly hard to bear.
“The Executive did not take decisions to limit contact lightly, and we have been giving detailed consideration over the last number of weeks as to how and when we could safely facilitate greater contact between families and friends.
“Given the latest scientific evidence and medical advice on transmission rates of the virus, we are now in a position to relax the Regulations to enable meetings indoors. This will be on the basis of no more than six individuals meeting together at any one time and all public health advice being followed.
“We know how tempting it will be to embrace one another when people come back together in a home environment, but we must urge you to continue to stay apart, even while indoors.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We know how difficult it has been for people to be separated loved ones as we have all worked together to save lives during this pandemic.
“We have held firm to our commitment not to keep any restriction in place longer than necessary and have gradually been taking steps to facilitate contact between family, friends and support networks as safely as possible.
“Today, the scientific evidence indicates that we can make more progress on this vital issue. The Executive has agreed that, from tomorrow, people can come back together indoors while following the important public health advice to keep everyone as safe as possible.
“This arrangement provides a balance between enabling much needed social contact, enhancing support networks and allowing informal childcare arrangements to resume. This is a crucial development in alleviating some of the childcare pressures being felt by parents at present.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Restrictions on contact between loved ones have been necessary to save lives throughout this pandemic. However, we know how detrimental it is to the wider health and wellbeing of the population when that contact is removed and people don’t have access to their normal support networks.
“We have already been able to facilitate outdoor meetings of up to ten people from different households and I’m pleased that we are now in a position where we can move to allow indoor visits.
“I must signal a word of caution that indoor meetings are still higher risk than an outdoor environment so I would encourage people to continue to arrange those meetings outdoors where possible. Anyone who decides avail of this relaxation should do so as safely as possible and adhere to all the advice that accompanies it.”