Small outdoor gatherings allowed as NI lockdown eased

by Q Radio News and PA reporters Michael McHugh, David Young and Rebecca Black

Groups of up to six people will be allowed to meet outdoors in Northern Ireland from tomorrow as long as social distancing is in place.

The Northern Ireland executive has announced the easing of some coronavirus restrictions, as the region prepares to slowly move out of lockdown.

Gardening centres and recycling centres already reopened today. 

During the executive's daily press conference, Stormont leaders confirmed places of worship can reopen for individual prayer, provided people can socially distance. 

Other measures also include allowing drive-in religious services as long as people remain in their cars, Cinemas, concerts and live theatre with audiences staying in their vehicles and golfers can return to fairways. 

First Minister Arlene Foster said indoor gathering of family members haven't been given the go ahead yet, despite it being part of phase one of the executive's pathway to recovery. 

Mrs Foster also confirmed the executive was considering the matter of small weddings. 

The First Minister said: "The relaxations I have announced have been made possible, and on this I will finish, by the vast majority of you faithfully following the public health advice on self-isolation, on shielding, on social distancing and on limiting your activities in public and washing your hands thoroughly."

Ministers have tried to balance the need to curb spread of disease with the desire to minimise harm to the economy and relieve suffering caused by social isolation.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill told the Stormont daily news conference: "When we can show that compassion, whenever we can move on these things, then of course we will move on, then we will not hold down the restrictions for longer than necessary.

"We want to let the people at home know that we are acting in everybody's best interests."

Some responsibilities for enforcing the restrictions have been shifted to local councils, after senior police expressed disquiet.

People queued for hours on Monday as recycling and garden centres opened their doors for the first time in weeks.

Anglers took to lake banks, while those with terminal medical diagnoses planned marriage ceremonies as restrictions were relaxed.

(Some anglers took to Southburn Reservoir, County Antrim as lockdown measures are eased in NI. Pic - Alan Lewis)

Six more deaths related to Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Monday, bringing its total to 482.

An extra 16 cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 4,401.

The total number of confirmed outbreaks in care homes is 71, with a further 33 suspected outbreaks, the department confirmed.

The health authorities said coronavirus testing would be offered to all care home residents and staff, including those with no positive tests, in a vulnerable sector which has seen more than 100 confirmed or suspected outbreaks and many fatalities.

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