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Numbers who can meet outdoors increases as Executive ease lockdown restrictions further

Coronavirus Social distancing

Hairdressers will remain shut as the executive today (Thursday) announced further easing of lockdown restrictions.

First Minister Arlene Foster said close contact roles, such as hairdressers and driving instructors will not yet be reopened but will be considered in “due course”.

However, at a meeting this morning, ministers were briefed by medical and scientific experts on the current transmission rate of the virus and agreed to move forward on a number of social and economic relaxations.

These include:

– permitting indoor visits with one other household for those who live alone;
– outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people;
– opening up of the housing market;
– opening up the remainder of the retail market;
– allowing outdoor training for elite athletes; and
– allowing places of worship and community centres to open to provide day-care.

In taking these decisions, the Executive has reminded the public to continue to follow the public health advice – adhering to social distancing rules and practice good hand and respiratory hygiene to stay safe and save lives.

Where changes require amendments to the legislation, these will commence on dates between June 11 and 15. Some changes do not require amendments to the regulations, but guidance has been developed and will be published.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is an important milestone as we are now in the process of closing step one in our five step recovery plan.

“The changes allow – for the first time since the end of March – those who live alone to form a small support unit with one other household, allowing the person to visit and stay over. We know that this will bring comfort to many across Northern Ireland who have been on their own for more than 10 weeks.

“The Executive will review this situation again next week and consider indoor visits from one household to another household in more limited circumstances.

“We have also been able to move forward on the opening of both the housing and retail sectors which will help our hard pressed local business community.

“The Executive is committed to move forward on other relaxations as soon as it is right to do so. We have consistently said that the regulations will only remain in place as long as they are needed and our decisions will continue to be based on our expert scientific and medical advice.

“But we must be guard against complacency. Coronavirus is still circulating in the community and we must continue to follow the public health advice, to adhere to social distancing and good hand hygiene.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Today we have been able to continue the forward momentum in our phased recovery plan. The scientific and medical advice to the Executive at this time is that we are in a position to move forward on a number of further relaxations.

“We understand the pressing need to tackle the issue of isolation, which is particularly difficult for those in single-person households. So, from this weekend, those people living alone will be able to join with one other household and have contact with them indoors. We are actively reviewing the wider situation on indoor meetings with family and friends and will provide an update on that next week.

“I’m pleased that we have also agreed today to open up the housing market and permit house moves. This is particularly good news for those who have been living in unsuitable accommodation and families in temporary accommodation who will now be able to move into social homes that are waiting for them.

“The issue of childcare is crucial in our recovery journey and our decision to permit the opening of church facilities and community halls for day care is an important step in addressing this key issue.

“I believe that the relaxations we are announcing today are a balance between the welfare, social, and emotional needs of our people, as well progress towards opening up our economy.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The Coronavirus emergency has been the biggest test of our whole society in many years. In dealing with the immediate threat to public health, we had no choice but to impose restrictions that were not only difficult to live with, but were in themselves damaging to our wider economic, societal and personal wellbeing.

“The Executive committed to keeping these restrictions under review and agreed that we would not keep restrictions in place longer than we need to. Today, based on the scientific evidence and medical advice on the prevalence of infection and the course of the epidemic, we have agreed to make some significant relaxations to the restrictions that remain in place.

“However, with this freedom comes a serious responsibility for us all to follow the public health advice and guidelines to the letter. I urge everyone not to underestimate the threat of this virus or the possibility of a second wave of infection and keep working with us until Covid-19 is defeated.”

The next statutory review of the Regulations will be held on June 18.

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