Monday, June 29, 2020

By Press Association

The number of people permitted to meet outdoors in Northern Ireland will increase from 10 to 30 under the latest relaxation of lockdown rules.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill made the announcement following a meeting of the Stormont Executive.

Mrs Foster said health minister Robin Swann would lay regulations on the issue on Monday.

The rules around indoor meetings will remain at a maximum of six people.

In the coming weeks, hotels, bars servings food, restaurants, coffee shops, attractions, hair salons and gyms are set to reopen.

However, Mrs Foster warned that this is “not business as usual”.

“While we have managed to suppress the spread of the virus here in Northern Ireland, it has not been beaten and while the hunt for a vaccine continues and while the rate of infection remains under control, we cannot assume that that will always be the case,” she said.

There had been speculation that making the wearing of face coverings mandatory on public transport was also to be discussed but it emerged that legal advice is being sought.

Mrs Foster said she expected it would be discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the Executive.

“The current position of the Executive is that we strongly recommend that people wear face coverings in enclosed settings such as public transport or other small areas,” she said.

“The infrastructure minister wants us to consider an issue around mandatory face coverings on public transport and we are currently taking legal advice on that issue.” 

Ms O’Neill added: “I don’t think there is any resistance to the issue.” Both urged those mourning the death of veteran republican Bobby Storey to observe social distancing.

Ms O’Neill said: “Everyone who is attending the funeral should observe the public health advice, socially distance, stay apart and follow the regulations.” 

Mrs Foster added: “It is important that people do stick to the public health regulation and respect the fact that we are still in a situation where Covid-19 could be spread.

“That is of concern to us when we see what is happening currently in Leicester for example and the fact there seems to be a spike there.” 

Meanwhile on Monday, as worshippers returned to church services for the first time in 15 weeks, the Catholic archbishop hailed a “day of joy”.

Archbishop Eamon Martin paid tribute to healthcare workers who served the sick and parishioners who volunteered to carry groceries and other essentials to those living alone.

He celebrated the first public Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh since the coronavirus lockdown began in March.

The archbishop said: “The past three-and-a-half months of lockdown marked a time of great uncertainty and anxiety.

“We had to make sacrifices for the common good and to protect life and health.” The numbers attending services will be “substantially” reduced to enable social distancing, the Primate of All Ireland said.

Every other pew was roped off and empty as Mass was celebrated, and the archbishop wore a face covering as he distributed communion bread.

He said: “It is such a joy to gather physically for Mass today, as well as to join virtually with many others who are participating over webcam.” The archbishop added: “Some of our liturgical customs have also been adjusted to take account of health recommendations.

“I appeal to you therefore to be patient and understanding, and to cooperate in helping us fulfil our church guidelines.” On Monday, one more Covid-19 related death was reported, and the total toll recorded by the Department of Health is 551.

Other changes to Northern Ireland’s lockdown taking effect on Monday mean elite athletes can train indoors and contact sport training can resume, while childminders can care for the children of four families at one time.

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