Covid NI: Ministers agree return of dancing and nightclubs from October 31

By Sophie McLaughlin

At Thursday's Executive meeting, ministers agreed on a number of gradual relaxations to the current coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland, including a date for nightclub re-openings and the return of dancing.

First Minister Paul Givan welcomed the easing of restrictions, particularly for the hospitality sector, which he said had been hit hard during the pandemic.

He said: "I'm pleased that at the end of this month they will be able to operate in a much more sustainable and viable way."

Mr Givan said the sector benefitted from "a high level of adherence" to coronavirus restrictions, adding that he believed this would continue.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was pleased progress had been made but that people should remain cautious.

"We're in for an uncertain period ahead and we have to work our way through that as best we can," she said.

Ms O'Neill said continuing increasing vaccination rates would also be a "crucially important" part of the executive's winter planning.

The restriction changes coming in from October 14:

-Further relaxations around the numbers permitted in private dwellings and a move away from the maximum number of people allowed to gather from 15 from four households to an overall cap of 30

-The requirement for audience members to be seated when watching performances in indoor venues will be removed

The regulations in relation to large house parties and raves will remain in place and are still not permitted

The Executive has said that over the next few weeks, further work will be carried out with the sectors to prepare for appropriate mitigations to be put in place in advance of further regulations being lifted.

The restriction changes coming in from October 31 (with mitigations):

-Allow people to move around hospitality premises and indoor venues, including being able to stand to have a drink and eat food

-The restriction on indoor dancing will be lifted

-The need to maintain social distancing in hospitality settings, such as pubs and restaurants will move to guidance. Whilst the legal requirement for social distancing will now be removed, people are asked to keep close face-to-face contact to a minimum at all times

-Nightclubs will be permitted to reopen

In a statement, The Executive said: "The use of mitigating measures is key in easing restrictions and engagement has taken place across sectors on the partnership effort required to facilitate relaxations.

"These relaxations rely on the adoption and implementation of measures that will help reduce the transmission of the virus and allow people to gather more safely in settings that would otherwise be considered higher risk.

"Extensive engagement has taken place with the arts, entertainment and hospitality sectors and there has been a positive response to taking additional steps to ensure the safety of customers, staff and the wider community."

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Mitigations

It is strongly recommended that venues and event organisers require individuals to demonstrate one of the following:

-Proof of having been fully vaccinated for more than two weeks

-Proof of a negative PCR test or rapid lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of entry to a venue (a lateral flow test taken at home will need to be reported into the public reporting system

-Evidence of a positive PCR test result for COVID-19 within the previous 180 days and following completion of the self-isolation period

The Executive added: "Some venues are already implementing these measures to help keep people safe and provide assurances to those attending their venues that all appropriate measures are being taken to protect them.

"As we step our way out of restrictions, it requires both personal and sectoral responsibility. This is very much a partnership effort and the Executive Covid Taskforce will work with sectors in advance of the regulations being lifted to ensure the appropriate mitigations are in place."

Ministers also considered the Autumn Winter Covid Contingency Planning and what options the Executive has at its disposal in the event of rising cases numbers or unsustainable pressures on our hospitals.

Options include:

-Having available the ability to deliver Covid-status certification in certain settings if it was considered desirable and appropriate

-The potential to tighten arrangements for self-isolation or minimum social distancing in higher-risk settings

-Fresh, cohesive messaging about safe behaviours focusing on maximizing vaccine uptake, the need for effective ventilation and the importance of wearing a face covering, particularly in crowded and enclosed settings

The Executive also asked the public to continue to make "safer choices" by following public health advice such as wearing face coverings, washing hands and taking up the vaccine.

They said: "We have come a long way through exceptionally challenging times – all of our lives have been changed in previously unimaginable ways.

"But we have made great progress and we have been able to remove the vast majority of the necessary measures that stopped us doing things we once took for granted."


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