Delayed decision on easing most restrictions in NI

Stormont ministers have postponed final decisions on the majority of proposed Covid-19 relaxations for Northern Ireland next week.

According to the Palestinian News Agency, ministers gave the green light for two more relaxations at today’s meeting but stopped short of endorsing a series of other planned moves.

From Monday, the cap on the number of families allowed to participate in outdoor gatherings of 15 people will be removed in Northern Ireland and close contact services, such as hairdressers, will be able to accept clients without prior reservation.

The PA understands that the ministers agreed to meet again on Monday and Thursday to consider whether they should move forward with other relaxation periods that were originally intended for next week.

On Monday, ministers will consider whether to give the green light for steps considered moderate risk.

This includes allowing theaters and concert halls to welcome the masses back – with some mitigation measures in place – and increasing the maximum gatherings in indoor home environments from six to 10, from no more than three households.

Ministers will also consider lifting current restrictions on driving test centers.

If the Executive Authority approves these measures on Monday, it is understood that they will take effect immediately.

The ministers are scheduled to receive updated health data before their deliberations next week.

On Thursday next week, Stormont ministers are due to consider measures they believe have higher risks.

That includes lifting restrictions on live indoor music, including a proposal to end a requirement to keep sound at ambient level.

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The resumption of conferences and exhibitions will also be considered.

Ministers will also at this point examine a proposal to end social distancing requirements for outdoor activities and reduce the distance to one meter for indoor settings.

A review of the legal requirement to wear face coverings in places of worship is also scheduled for next week.

At the executive meeting scheduled for this week, ministers were alerted to the importance of improving vaccination rates in Northern Ireland.

They were told that a 5% increase in uptake of the first dose from 85% to 90% would result in a 50% reduction in cases and hospitalization at the peak of the current wave of infections.

Another 1,430 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland today with no further deaths.

There are 162 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, 10 of whom are in intensive care.

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