Coronavirus: Omniplex to leave every second seat empty

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Cinema seatsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The cinema chains says it wants to give customers peace of mind

Northern Ireland's biggest cinema chain, Omniplex, is introducing a "seat separation" policy in response to coronavirus.

That means that every second seat will be left unoccupied in a checkerboard pattern. Omniplex operates from 15 locations across Northern Ireland.

It is the latest in a series of measures aimed at combating the spread of Covid-19.

Four new cases have been confirmed in NI, bringing the total to 16.

Paul John Anderson, director of Omniplex, said the move was in line with World Health Organisation guidance.

"This means we've reduced our overall capacity by 50% and it will give cinemagoers peace of mind," he said.

Mr Anderson said other measures include self-scanning of tickets, increased cleaning regimes and hand-sanitising stations in every cinema foyer.

Earlier on Tuesday, the first and deputy first ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, announced they had cancelled plans to travel to Washington DC for St Patrick's Day.

They said they took the decision to support ongoing efforts to deal with Covid-19.

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Coronavirus: Michelle O'Neill says it was right to cancel Washington trip

"It's regrettable we're not able to go to the US but ultimately we've a call to make, we've a public health crisis on our hands and we need to make sure we're here to respond," said Ms O'Neill.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is flying to Washington DC as planned to take part in a range of St Patrick's Day events.

Call centre closure

Also on Tuesday, a Belfast call centre with about 1,000 employees closed temporarily after a case of the virus was detected.

Lloyds Banking Group, which owns the Halifax centre, said "a colleague based there was diagnosed with Covid-19".

The banking group said it would "allow for the appropriate areas of the site to be cleaned".

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Staff have been asked to self-isolate, work from home or work from another site

"Our priority is the wellbeing of the individual, as well as the colleagues and visitors to the building," the group added.

Colleagues based in the Belfast Gasworks building have been asked to self-isolate, work from home or work from a contingency site depending on which team or part of the building they work in.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical firm Almac has confirmed that an employee at its Craigavon site has tested positive for coronavirus.

The firm said it is working with the Public Health Agency and has "performed a deep clean of the affected area".

"The Craigavon campus remains open as does its facilities globally," a spokesperson said.

Danske Bank has also said that a branch in Armagh has been closed for deep cleaning after an employee reported a suspected case of coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Latest disruption

Day-to-day life is continuing to be affected by the coronavirus with event cancellations, travel disruption and closures of buildings and offices.

Here are some of the latest developments:

  • All Ryanair and Aer Lingus flights to and from Italy have been cancelled
  • Ticket sales for Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 playoff away to Bosnia on 26 March have been suspended while it has been announced the Republic of Ireland's playoff against Slovakia in Bratislava the same night will be played behind closed doors
  • St Patrick's Day parades in Omagh, Enniskillen, Londonderry, Newry and Downpatrick have been cancelled, following the cancellation of events in Belfast and across the Republic of Ireland on Monday
  • The Special Olympics Ireland Winter Games, which were due to be held in NI on 20-22 March, have been postponed
  • Trinity College Dublin has announced lectures will be delivered online from tomorrow and for the rest of the term

While events like St Patrick's Day parades and sporting fixtures have been cancelled, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has said the evidence around the benefit of cancelling mass gatherings "is just not there".

Dr Michael McBride said authorities needed to think about "what happens when we do cancel events", as, in the case of sporting fixtures, people may gather in each other's homes or bars to watch games.

"In an enclosed environment, in close proximity to individuals, they may be at even greater risk," he said.

"So we just need to think this through in terms of what the consequences might be of that, not just in terms of what the economic and social costs might be but also in terms of the increased risk."

In the UK, six people have died from the virus while it has been confirmed that Health Minister Nadine Dorries has become the first MP to test positive for the illness.

The UK Foreign Office has warned against all but essential travel to Italy.

For advice and the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak, the Public Health Agency has a dedicated website.