The Executive has today signalled its intention to make a number of changes to the Coronavirus Regulations in the weeks ahead, but stressed that those would be conditional on the course of the epidemic.
Ministers have also agreed to amend the regulations to make clear hotels can take advance bookings in preparation for when they can accept guests. While the Executive is not yet in a position to provide an indicative date for reopening, they will give this matter further consideration and provide an update next week.
The current Covid-19 transmission rate – or the R number – has increased since the last amendments were introduced and so the Executive has agreed to monitor and track the number over the next week to 10 days, and other indicators of the course of the epidemic.
If the R number remains at or below its current level of 0.9 then the following relaxations will be introduced in the week commencing 8 June:
- People will be permitted to leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of an animal or animals.
- Outdoor marriages and civil partnership ceremonies will be allowed, with number of people attending limited to 10.
- Outdoor sports courts will be permitted to reopen.
- The conduct of business by outdoor non-food retailers will be permitted, including new and used car retailers; retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries/trailers; retailers of caravans or motorhomes, and retailers of agricultural or other large machinery.
- The conduct of business by non-food retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits and / or with a greater propensity for larger store areas, will be permitted. But only where those outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park.
This was the third statutory review of the Regulations by the Executive. When previous restrictions were relaxed by the Executive, the R number was between 0.7 and 0.8.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Decisions on when and how to relax the current regulations will be based on expert scientific and medical advice.
“On the basis of the advice we received this morning, we have agreed to delay making any further relaxations at this time with the intention of introducing some adjustments in two weeks.
“That decision depends mainly on the R number remaining at or below its current value. That can only happen if people continue to follow the public health advice, to socially distance, to wash their hands and to remain at home as much as possible.
“None of these measures are optional extras, they do and have saved many lives and the people of Northern Ireland have responded positively to the major challenges asked of them.
“This Executive understands that the last nine weeks have been difficult and that the vast majority continue to be responsible.
“But we are concerned that some people are ignoring the advice or applying it on their own terms. This will cause the virus to spread and will have a direct impact on our ability introduce further relaxations.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Last week we made some significant changes to the Regulations, which have allowed people to come back together again as long as strict conditions are adhered to.
“However, we know that these relaxations carry an element of risk, and the advice from our scientific and medical experts is that it will take around three weeks to see the impacts of these changes on the R rate, which measures transmission of the virus.
“The Executive has agreed that the safest approach to easing further restrictions is to wait until we have a clear understanding of the impacts of previous relaxations on the level of transmission.
“We will consider the situation on the conditional future relaxations agreed today in light of the R number, and other indicators of the course of the epidemic, on 4th June.
“We cannot stress strongly enough that the actions of every individual are crucial in our ability to keep moving out of lockdown. Those who behave irresponsibly or carelessly could impact gravely on the majority of others who continue to do the right thing. In effect, those who ignore the public health advice could be extending lockdown for us all.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The public should be under no illusions that we have reached safe ground in this pandemic. The battle against Covid-19 is far from over and we are urging everyone across society to keep going with the collective effort that is needed to come out the other side of this.
“When we see what look like encouraging statistics, we should not be fooled into thinking we are on the home straight. We must be prepared - and are preparing - for a second wave of the virus and the behaviour of every individual will be crucial in combating that, if and when it occurs.
“The public health advice is not open to interpretation. People should continue to live by the restrictions that are in place; you must stay two metres away from people who are not part of your household; and everyone should maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene.
“By following these measures vigilantly, the public hold the key to unlocking lockdown.”