Balmoral Show returns with new Covid-19 entry rules

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A young woman standing next to a cow at the Balmoral Show, inside a large hanger-like indoor area
Image caption,
Visitors to the Balmoral Show this year are required to provide contact details for track-and-trace

The biggest agricultural event in Northern Ireland, the Balmoral Show, has opened to visitors for the first time since the pandemic began.

It was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak and this year's show also faced some disruption.

It was postponed from its traditional date in May and is now taking place from 22 to 25 September.

Entry rules have also changed and all ticket holders must show proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid test.

That is just one of the changes the organisers have introduced this year to ensure that the event is "Covid compliant" and safe for its visitors and staff.

Those travelling to the show have been advised to book their ticket in advance as no tickets will be available to buy on arrival at the venue.

Image caption,
Traders are back at the Balmoral Show for the first time since 2019

Visitors will have to provide their contact details for Covid-19 track-and-trace purposes when they purchase tickets for the show.

The wearing of face masks is required inside all indoor buildings during the event, except when guests are eating or drinking at a table.

Anyone who has not yet received their Covid-19 vaccine can get one at a walk-in vaccination clinic operated by the South Eastern Health and Social Trust.

The organisers have also published a visitors' code of conduct, which lists all the rules they have introduced this year in a bid to limit the spread of Covid-19.

'Big day out was here again'

At-the-scene: BBC News NI Kevin Sharkey

Dressed in very colourful gear, a three-man band weaved through the crowds playing cheery music.

It was all very fitting for a day of great relief among farming families.

Their big day out was here again; their chance to once more showcase what they do best.

They also had the chance to meet old friends again. The pandemic has changed so much but here, so much remained the same.

The animal and poultry competitions, the sheep-shearing skills, the food and drinks produced on farms the length and breath of Northern Ireland.

There was plenty of fun too, like the daredevil bikers doing somersaults high into the sunny skies.

But most of the activities were on ground level.

That was reassuring for a community wanting to ensure they are on solid ground moving forward from the stresses and disruption since they were last together at the Balmoral Show.

Speaking after a visit to the showgrounds to preview the exhibits, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said: "Balmoral is the largest agricultural event in Northern Ireland and it is the highlight of the year for many in the agri-food sector.

"It's a chance to show off the world-class, award-winning produce we have in this region.

"I am delighted the show is able to go ahead this year and I pay tribute to the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society for their hard work in ensuring the show is safe and enjoyable for everyone who's got a ticket."

Mr Poots said "considerable efforts" have been put in to ensure the show can be run in a safe way.

"They've taken huge steps to ensure sure that's the case," he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

He said there will greater space in the aisles, more people wearing masks indoors and a vaccination centre.

"People who haven't been vaccinated and are out for the day and couldn't be bothered getting vaccinated somewhere, they can get it handily at the Balmoral show and it will only take a minute out of their time."

'Cow, ploughs and wows'

In a wide-ranging competition schedule entitled Cows, Ploughs and Plenty of Wows, there are trophies, championship titles and cash prizes up for grabs for the best livestock breeders and handlers.

The traditional Balmoral sheep-shearing competition is now in its 60th year and there will also be show jumping and polo tournaments, a falconry display and a dog agility display.

Image caption,
Some sheep are excluded because of the time of year

Local food and drink companies will be showcasing their goods at the Northern Ireland Food Pavilion.

The Balmoral Show is run by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).

The organisation can trace its roots back to the aftermath of the Irish Famine in the mid-19th Century, when farmers came together to improve agricultural knowledge and expertise.

It has been known officially as the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society since 1904 but the movement has been hosting agricultural shows for more than 150 years.

The Balmoral Show was so named because for decades it was hosted at the King's Hall in the Balmoral area of south Belfast.

The RUAS moved out of the King's Hall in 2012 and, from the following year, it began staging the Balmoral Show at its new home on the site of the former Maze prison, outside Lisburn.

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