Northern Ireland news

Social distancing reduced to one metre in Northern Ireland

First Minister Arlene Foster revealed yesterday that social distancing in Northern Ireland will be reduced from two metres to one metre. Picture: Kelvin Boyes/PA Wire
Marie Louise McConville

Social distancing guidelines in Northern Ireland are to be reduced from two metres to one metre as the easing of lock-down restrictions continues.

First Minister Arlene Foster revealed the easing just days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a similar move would be introduced in England on July 4.

Members of the hospitality industry have been campaigning for the move for the last number of weeks in a bid to help restart their businesses.

The further easing of restrictions came as it was revealed there had been no further Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland with the number remaining at 547. However, two further positives cases were revealed.

In addition, in the Republic, six more Covid-19 related deaths were announced, bringing the total to 1,726.

Speaking yesterday, Arlene Foster said social distancing guidelines would be reduced to one metre, subject to mitigations.

She told a briefing at Stormont that while "everybody's objective should be to stay 2m apart from those from other households wherever possible", it would be an important move particularly to support the hospitality sector.

"A minimum 1m distance between individuals can be considered acceptable in circumstances where appropriate mitigations are made," she said.

"Nothing is risk free in this scenario and therefore it is important that the hospitality and tourism sector continues to work with the executive to find the appropriate mitigations for their particular areas".

She added: "Obviously hand hygiene remains a key part of that, having sanitisers.

"How the different hospitality venues are actually repurposed, how people are sitting at tables, whether there's a need for having perspex in certain areas, all of these things will be looked at with the hospitality industry."

The First Minister also revealed that the Northern Ireland Executive has agreed indicative dates for the further easing of coronavirus lockdown measures, including the reopening of gyms, leisure centres, libraries and the resumption of competitive sport.

"Some of the proposed areas incorporated in the timetable include betting shops from the 3rd of July, additional close contact services, such as tattoo parlours, reflexology and complementary therapies from the 6th of July, indoor gyms and outdoor playgrounds from the 10th of July, libraries from the 16th of July," she said.

She added that competitive sport could resume from July 17 with leisure centres and soft play areas allowed to reopen from August 7.

Meanwhile, The British Dental Association has told the Stormont Health Committee that the future of dental services in Northern Ireland are now hanging in the balance.

In oral evidence yesterday, the Association explained that dental practices are set to resume face-to-face care later this month at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity, limited by PPE costs and shortages, and requirements to meet strict social distancing and decontamination guidelines.

NI dental leaders have said the combination of lower patient numbers and higher costs will have a devastating impact on high street services.

The Department of Health has intimated existing support packages could be wound down after August, and any future support will have to be ‘subject to the confines of the dental budget'.

Dentists will be able to provide non-urgent care to the public from 29 June, with aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs), using high-speed instruments, scheduled to start from 20 July.

Richard Graham, Chair of the BDA's Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee said: "The future of dental services in Northern Ireland now hangs in the balance.

"Without adequate ongoing support from government it is frankly impossible to sustain a model based on activity when activity has fallen through the floor," he said.

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