Coronavirus: More restrictions are lifted but decision on visiting people indoors is again deferred

Ministers gave their approval today to more Covid-19 restrictions being lifted on June 8, provided the R rate of infection remains at or below the current level of 0.9.

After the third statutory review of the Coronavirus regulations, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill revealed at the daily Executive press conference that, depending on the transmission rate, the following relaxations would be allowed:

People will be permitted to leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of their pet or non-farm 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 such as stores selling electrical goods, mobile phones, computer, furniture and furnishings. But only where those outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park and where they can accommodate social distancing.

Ministers also agreed to amend the regulations to allow hotels to 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, Ministers will give the matter further consideration and provide an update next week.

Urging citizens to continue to follow the public health advice and abide by the remaining restrictions, First Minister Foster said: “As the Executive cautiously plots our path back towards normality, we must remain cautious about the spread of the virus. After all, we have not seen the full impact of recently-introduced relaxations. All the measures we have outlined will be introduced from the week beginning 8 June, provided that the R value does not increase above 0.9. As I indicated last week, if people act in line with the restrictions, the more likely the R rate will improve – resulting in more relaxations. If they don’t, we will not be able to do more.”

Reminding members of the public that their actions will determine how the Coronavirus spreads in the coming weeks, deputy First Minister O’Neill argued: “The actions of the public managed to drive the R rate below 1. We need to keep driving it down in the days and weeks ahead. As we go forward with the hope that a vaccine will be found and as medical and scientific researchers work at a breakneck speed in this global effort, social distancing is going to be key. However anyone who is flouting the regulations or the restrictions or is now choosing to ignore the public health advice could actually be extending lockdown for all of us.”

Following the publication of new figures on patient waiting times, Health Minister Robin Swann warned today that Covid-19 will continue to impact the provision of health services.

Describing the figures as very disappointing but not unexpected, Minister Swann stated: “Successfully attacking these waiting times will take time and money, and can only be achieved if additional long term funding is made available – such funding must be over and above that needed to run existing services. I have been very clear on this point since taking up post. Even with significant additional investment, the task of putting this right will be immensely challenging.”

The Minister said with health chiefs having to plan for the continuing threat posed by Covid-19, the need to adapt to the presence of the Coronavirus would continue to severely limit the capacity of hospitals to scale up their activity, as they responded to the need to enforce social distancing with reduced numbers in waiting rooms and addressed its impact on theatre lists.

He acknowledged: “We have started the process of re-building our health and social care system – and it is essential that our emphasis is ‘rebuilding’ rather than ‘restoring’. The truth is that our health service will never be the same again – the challenge for us is to make that reality an opportunity rather than a threat. The way we use services will have to change and innovations like virtual clinics will increasingly become the norm. We must capture the lessons and innovation from our response to Coronavirus, and seek to build on the ingenuity and flexibility of the wonderful workforce across Health and Social Care.”

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