By PA reporters and Q Radio News
Wearing face masks in retail shops and enclosed spaces will become mandatory from Monday, Arlene Foster has said.
Following a extensive Executive meeting, Stormont ministers also agreed to pause the reopening of pubs in Northern Ireland until next month.
The First Minister said the decision was taken because of the concern around the level of community transmission and the prioritisation of the reopening of schools.
"We have set a new indicative date of September 1," she said.
"I want to acknowledge that the hospitality sector have been working very hard with us, they have been in partnership with us right throughout this issue and this is not a reflection on the hospitality sector, rather it's a reflection on the fact that the R rate has risen, there is a rise in community transmission and we always said there is a need to work together to try and push that down.
"We have decided to make face masks mandatory in enclosed spaces where you can't social distance, from Monday.
"Retail workers will not have to wear masks, it's those people coming in to the shops that we are asking to wear masks.
"It's about trying to give confidence to people who feel vulnerable and maybe have been shielding and we are asking the public to work with us and listen to what we are asking them to do."
Arlene Foster said there will be a radio and TV campaign to encourage people to wear face coverings.
"The Education Minister has brought forward an education restart paper, new guidance will be going out and the idea is that we will have all pupils back by the end of August," Mrs Foster added.
"The deputy first minister and I have agreed to set up a high street task force, and that's to deal with the real issues facing our high streets.
"We recognise there is a number of ongoing issues and upcoming issues that will challenge our high street and we want to engage with that sector and deal with those challenges.
"Theatre and concert halls can open on a restricted basis from August 8, with an indicative date of September 1 for the return of audiences.
"We are going to permit spectators to be present at indoor sporting venues from August 10 but we have also said that further work is needed to risk assess the reopening of soft play areas and other venues."
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland committee has welcomed the decision that it will be compulsory to wear face masks in shops from Monday.
Committee chair Dr Alan Stout said, “We welcome this decision. This virus is still very much circulating in the community and the most recent statistics from the Department of Health tell us that the number of positive tests per-day has increased three fold from early July.
"The recent relaxation of social distancing rules from two meter to one meter means people are at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19. It is vital that we don’t become complacent.
“The risk of exposure is higher again in indoor spaces outside of people’s own homes where social distancing is not possible.
"The wearing of nose and mouth coverings in these situations helps control the spread of infection and saves lives in the process.
"It also instils confidence among the general public that we are all doing our bit to stop the spread of this virus. This is especially important for the more vulnerable sections of our population, such as those who were shielding until recently.”
Minister of Education Peter Weir said that all children will return to school by next month.
This includes pupils in special schools.
A letter has been sent this afternoon to all School Leaders regarding the new Restart & further guidance will issue next week.— Peter Weir (@peterweirmla) August 6, 2020
My priorities remain the education of children & the safety of both children & our workforce. Neither can be neglected.
"This is a strategic prioritisation that the Executive has given to education, Mr Weir said.
"It is positive news for our parents, teachers and society as a whole, particularly for our young people that they will be able to fully access education.
"For years one to 10, they will be returning on the basis of protected bubbles of whole classes, and for years 11 to 14 try to minimise movement between classes. All the other protective measures that we have put in place and suggested to schools previously remain in place so we are looking after the health and safety of our young people.
"Full guidance will be issued to schools next week. The idea is to try and have the maximum level of social distancing, but the overriding issue is to ensure we have full classes."
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland executive also announced its pushing back the opening date for 'wet pubs' in Northern Ireland until 1st September..
Hospitality Ulster said it must now step in and provide an emergency financial package for those in the sector to avert mass redundancies and business closures.
Hotels, restaurants, and pubs serving food have been operating safely since 3 July, whilst responsible non-food pubs have obeyed the rules and remained closed.
In a statement Hospitality Ulster said, "These businesses have been hanging on by their fingernails and as the job retention scheme now requires employers to contribute, the decision to keep them closed leaves them with no choice but to make staff redundant. Many of the pubs will never reopen their doors.
"For weeks, Hospitality Ulster has proactively suggested the introduction of additional safety measures, including the implementation of a specific Track and Trace system in pubs and has called publicly, time and again, for the power of closure for any establishments who flout safety guidance.
"All these precautions and measures which have been offered up as solutions have been discounted by those making reopening decisions.
"The pressures heaped on traditional non-food pub owners and staff during the coronavirus lockdown phase have been immense."
Colin Neill, Chief Executive said, “If the Executive are concerned about compliance, they should, as we have repeatedly suggested, take the powers to close anyone that blatantly ignores the guidance - not keep everyone closed, just in case. Some people speed, but we don’t stop everyone else from driving.”
“It is in our very best interest that we do everything in our power to help curtail the spread of coronavirus. Public health comes first, and we have extensive guidance in place and being implemented, creating the safest possible environments and we have offered to do more.”
“It is now not difficult to imagine that thousands of people who work in, or own, traditional pubs will struggle to pay their mortgages and support their families as they are forced to be let go.
"Investment and aid right now by the Executive will mean that thousands in the sector stand a chance, otherwise the ripple effect will have huge consequences. We are talking thousands of job losses.”
“We now need an immediate and swift response from our political leaders whose decision has effectively removed the livelihoods of thousands of people.”
“We are urgently seeking Ministerial engagement and call on them to help save the jobs and businesses across Northern Ireland. This cannot wait until the next Executive meeting scheduled for two weeks’ time.”
(Colin Neill - Hospitality Ulster)