Minor relaxation of coronavirus regulations confirmed

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Outdoor weddings with up to 8 people will be allowed in NI from 8th June - GETTY IMAGE

By Q Radio News and PA.

A number of minor relaxations to coronavirus regulations will be introduced in Northern Ireland from Monday, the Stormont Executive has confirmed.

These include allowing those who are shielding to spend time outside with people from their own household, or a person from another, as long as social distancing is observed.

The new rules will also see people permitted to leave home to attend to the welfare of animals, outdoor weddings with up to ten people, the reopening of outdoor sports facilities, and the reopening of outdoor non-food retail.

The Executive also said a decision on whether hotels and other tourist accommodation can reopen from July 20 will be taken closer to the time, dependent on virus transmission rates.

Ministers also agreed to change the definition of a key worker for parents requiring childcare to align with the definition currently used by schools accepting children.

A number of nurseries are set to reopen next week, taking in children of key workers.

The executive also agreed to formally introduce regulations to enforce the new UK-wide quarantine policy.

From Monday, people arriving in Northern Ireland from outside the UK and Ireland's Common Travel Area will have to self-isolate for 14 days, with those not complying liable to a maximum fine of £1,000.

Those who arrive into a port or airport in the Irish Republic from outside the Common Travel Area and then travel north will also be subject to the same regulations.

The death of one more person with coronavirus in Northern Ireland was announced on Thursday, taking the total recorded by the Department of Health - a toll that primarily accounts for hospital deaths - to 535.

There were another 33 confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total since the outbreak began to 4,773.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the decisions on the latest relaxations were taken following scientific and medical advice, but warned Covid-19 is still circulating in the community.

"That's why it is important that people continue to restrict their activities in public and exercise their rights proportionately and responsibly, adhering to the guidelines on social distancing and good hand hygiene," she said.

"We have only been able to make these relaxations because the public have followed the advice and flattened the curve of infection, protected the health service and saved many lives.

"It is important that we all stick to the course now, so that further relaxations can be made in the future."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the Executive had received "positive news" about the R number.

"Last week the R number was at 0.9. We said we would move forward to further ease the restrictions providing the R rate did not rise above that position and today we had positive news," she said.

"This has allowed us to make good on our intention to introduce further relaxations from the beginning of next week."

Ms O'Neill added: "We know this has been a difficult and lonely time for many people who have isolated themselves for their own protection, and they can now look forward next week to meeting outdoors in limited circumstances and having a chance to reconnect with loved ones."

During the Executive's daily press conference, Stormont's leaders also warned people in Northern Ireland to find alternative methods to protesting in large gatherings. 

Thousands gathered in Belfast yesterday for a demonstration against the death of George Floyd in the US.

The African American man died while in police custody, after a Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck.

First Minister Arlene Foster says she supports the cause and described Mr Floyd's death as "horrific", however, she warned large gatherings are a breach of covid-19 regulations. 

"We are very clear, we are unified as an Executive in terms of the messaging that mass gatherings are a breach of regulation six.

"People need to know that, people need to understand that and the reason it is a breach of regulation six is we're trying to protect them and their families and the wider community.

"I think that from now on the police will be watching very carefully what happens in relation to mass gatherings. I know that they are speaking to organisers of future events.

"We are saying very clearly today from this platform that if you want to have a peaceful protest in relation to any issue then there are other ways to do that.

"But be very clear mass gatherings such as we've seen in front of Belfast City Hall are a breach of the law and therefore everybody should be aware of that now and there should not be a repeat of that."

Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she stands "full square behind the Black Lives Matter campaign".

"But we have to send a message very clearly but by gathering in such big crowds we're actually spreading the virus and actually that's killing people so we're asking people to protest in a different way," she said.

"Please find another avenue to vent your feelings and your views which I know are very strongly held so please go online and please find other ways to do it."

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