Covid-19: NI celebrates latest steps out of lockdown

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Man pours pint while wearing PPE visorImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Indoors pints are allowed from Monday

People across Northern Ireland have been celebrating the return of many freedoms as lockdown eases.

Restaurants, cafes, bars and other hospitality venues can operate indoors from Monday in another sign of a return to normality.

Six people from two households can now meet indoors in homes, and non-essential travel is allowed to the rest of the UK.

Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster urged people to remain careful.

"We're very pleased to have reached this point in our journey coming out of Covid restrictions and of course we're asking people to be sensible, but also to enjoy the newfound freedoms that they have," she said.

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Image caption,
Arlene Foster says please be sensible but still celebrate, as she welcomes the return of cinemas with Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

The lockdown-easing measures were agreed by ministers last week.

A traffic light system will be in place for foreign travel, with 12 countries on Northern Ireland's so-called "green list", including Portugal.

People going to countries that appear on the green list do not need to quarantine on their return.

Media caption,

Coronavirus: NI leisure industry reopens after lockdown

But those returning from the likes of Portugal will be asked to take a PCR test after they arrive home.

England, Scotland and Wales have already implemented similar systems, with the first travellers heading off on holiday last week.

If returning from a country on the UK's red list, passengers must book and enter hotel quarantine.

Non-essential travel from Northern Ireland to other parts of the Common Travel Area (CTA - the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man) is now allowed, and people will not be required to isolate on return if they have visited family or friends in other parts of the area.

What is happening from Monday?

  • Indoor household visits allowed, with up to six people from no more than two households (this does not include children under 12)
  • Overnight stays permitted
  • Indoor hospitality allowed with six people allowed to sit together from unlimited households (children under 12 not counted in the six)
  • Hotels, B&Bs and other travel and tourism venues to reopen
  • Post wedding and civil partnership receptions permitted, with no restriction on top table but restriction of 10 at other tables
  • Removal of stay local message
  • Schools can resume extra-curricular activities, with indoor sports and outdoor inter-schools sports allowed
  • Indoor visitor attractions can reopen with mitigations, including amusement arcades, bingo halls, museums, galleries and cinemas
  • Libraries can reopen
  • Indoor group exercise and training can resume, including soft play areas, leisure centres, gyms, swimming pools, equestrian centres, venues relating to motor sport and activity centres
  • Up to 500 spectators allowed at outdoor sport events or gatherings
  • Increase in number allowed for indoor (non-domestic) gatherings, subject to venue risk assessment

At last Thursday's executive meeting, ministers also backed the reopening of hotels and B&Bs from Monday and the attendance of spectators at outdoor sport events - up to 500 may be permitted.

Pubs and restaurants are now allowed to trade indoors with a maximum of six people per table from a maximum of six households, or up to 10 people provided they are all from the same household.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Tommy Brady, 78, enjoying his first pint since Christmas Eve at The Garrick Bar in Belfast

Owner of the Harbour Cafe at Belfast's docks, Marty Gibson, said he was ready to open and had reduced the seating capacity from about 40 to 20.

"We have done everything we can do - sanitisers, distancing and track and trace in place. We just have to see how we go," he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

However, he added that businesses would still need financial help.

"Landlords are still looking for rent and there are still wages to pay and overheads, which haven't decreased in price."

'Cautious and careful'

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the continued easing of restrictions was a "huge step forward for Northern Ireland's economy".

"Our businesses are looking forward to reopening but they are also responsible. It's about doing things safely and making sure we don't take any steps backward," she told Good Morning Ulster.

Mrs Dodds also said NI tourism drives would be launched in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill welcomed the moves, but urged people to remain cautious and careful given the prevalence, particularly in Great Britain, of the so-called Indian variant of the virus.

Other measures easing from Monday include increased numbers permitted for indoor gatherings - not including domestic settings - to allow for community events such as mother-and-toddler groups to resume.

National Trust houses and other properties in Northern Ireland are reopening their doors to visitors from Monday.

Some small properties or places which cannot accommodate social distancing will reopen later once Covid restrictions are lifted or when repair or redisplay work is completed, said the National Trust.

Up to 1,000 fans were allowed to attend Friday's Irish Cup final at Mourneview Park in Lurgan, County Armagh.

But spectators will not be allowed back for Derry City's game against St Patrick's Athletic on Monday night.

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The decision was taken after discussions with public health officials, "based on the current high rates of Covid-19 transmission in the city", according to a statement on the club's website.

People in England, Scotland and Wales have been allowed to meet in each other's homes and enjoy indoor hospitality since last Monday.