Ministers agree to end social distancing in shops and cinemas

Stormont Executive

Q Radio News/PA

Stormont ministers have agreed to end social distancing restrictions for shops, cinemas, theatres and a number of other indoor settings in Northern Ireland.

At a meeting on Monday evening, ministers decided to remove the one-metre distance requirement for the retail sector, indoor attractions and seated indoor venues.

Ministers have agreed to beef up guidance to business and venue owners to mitigate the impact of allowing a return to full capacity.

First Minister Paul Givan tweeted: “Progress made after a constructive meeting of the Executive to remove social distancing requirements for indoor seated venues, indoor visitor attractions and retail settings.

“Guidance will be provided for measures that can be taken to mitigate risk.”

The measures are to take effect from 6pm on Thursday. Further consideration is to be given to the hospitality sector on October 7.

The Executive said that despite the social distancing requirement being removed, “we would ask people to keep close face to face contact to a minimum at all times”.

First and Deputy First Ministers Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill with Executive colleagues

An Executive statement said: “With furlough due to end in a few days we are very aware of the financial burden on businesses that aren’t yet able to operate at full capacity due to the current social distancing restrictions and the very real concerns of those people whose jobs are at risk.

“The Executive has today considered the existing regulations and has agreed to remove the legal requirement to socially distance in retail and indoor visitor attractions.

“We ask that those responsible for these venues, and those attending them, continue to utilise all other available mitigations such as hand sanitising, good ventilation, and using one way systems where possible.

“The wearing of a face covering remains a legal requirement in these settings.

“The Executive has also decided to remove the requirement to socially distance in indoor seated venues such as theatres, concert halls and cinemas.”

The advice includes the installation of screening, one-way systems and increased ventilation.

In regard to indoor seated venues, ministers will issue additional guidance to venues advising that they introduce entry policies that require proof of either Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test or evidence of a positive PCR test within the previous six months.

Ministers did not consider social distancing in the hospitality sector during Monday’s virtual meeting.

That will be looked at during an Executive meeting next week.

It is understood bar and food areas of indoor retail venues, indoor attractions and indoor seated venues will be categorised as hospitality and the one-metre rule will continue to apply in those locations.

The potential for Stormont to introduce mandatory Covid passports for access to venues was not decided at Monday’s virtual meeting.

The paper being considered by ministers on Monday did not cover the hospitality sector, which is also subject to the one metre social distancing rule.

“The issue of social distancing in the hospitality sector will be considered at our meeting next week along with our autumn winter Covid Contingency Planning” the statement said.

“We will continue our engagement with this sector as we approach the decision points relevant to them.”

Earlier on Monday, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons expressed doubt about the use of mandatory vaccine passports in Northern Ireland.

His comments suggest the issue may become a point of friction for parties within the Executive, given Sinn Fein has made clear it would be open to vaccine certification if the move was recommended by health chiefs.

The SDLP last week called for the introduction of a scheme as a way to boost vaccination rates.

While authorities in England have shelved plans for vaccine passports, the administrations in Scotland and Wales are introducing schemes next month.

A scheme to gain entry to pubs and restaurants in the Irish Republic, which has been credited with driving up vaccination rates among young people, is set to end on October 22.

Mr Lyons said he wanted to see social distancing measures removed as soon as possible, because of decreasing Covid transmission and hospital admission rates in Northern Ireland.

But he said did not believe vaccine certification was an appropriate way to mitigate the removal of the restriction.

 

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