Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Limit on outdoor gatherings to be raised to 30

The Executive is seeking legal advice before making a decision on making the wearing of face coverings mandatory on public transport
Rebecca Black and Michael McHugh

THE number of people permitted to meet outdoors in Northern Ireland will increase from 10 to 30 under the latest relaxation of lockdown rules.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill made the announcement following a meeting of the Stormont Executive yesterday.

Mrs Foster said health minister Robin Swann would lay regulations on the issue on Monday.

The rules around indoor meetings will remain at a maximum of six people.

In the coming weeks, hotels, bars servings food, restaurants, coffee shops, attractions, hair salons and gyms are set to reopen.

However, Mrs Foster warned that this is "not business as usual".

"While we have managed to suppress the spread of the virus here in Northern Ireland, it has not been beaten and while the hunt for a vaccine continues and while the rate of infection remains under control, we cannot assume that that will always be the case," she said.

There had been speculation that making the wearing of face coverings mandatory on public transport was also to be discussed but it emerged that legal advice is being sought.

Mrs Foster said she expected it would be on the agenda at Thursday's meeting of the Executive.

"The current position of the Executive is that we strongly recommend that people wear face coverings in enclosed settings such as public transport or other small areas," she said.

"The infrastructure minister wants us to consider an issue around mandatory face coverings on public transport and we are currently taking legal advice on that issue."

Ms O'Neill added: "I don't think there is any resistance to the issue."

Both leaders urged those mourning the death of veteran republican Bobby Storey today to observe social distancing.

Hundreds lined streets on Friday as the remains of the former IRA prisoner arrived at his home in west Belfast.

Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 11am at St Agnes’ Church in Andersonstown before burial at Milltown Cemetery.

Ms O'Neill said: "Everyone who is attending the funeral should observe the public health advice, socially distance, stay apart and follow the regulations."

Mrs Foster added: "It is important that people do stick to the public health regulation and respect the fact that we are still in a situation where Covid-19 could be spread.

"That is of concern to us when we see what is happening currently in Leicester for example and the fact there seems to be a spike there."

Meanwhile, guidance published the Department of Communities has said one-way pedestrian routes in busy public spaces could aid social distancing.

Northern Ireland has become the first part of the UK to move from two metres to one metre, with some conditions.

Bus stops may be relocated to areas where they can better accommodate safe queuing, according to information published by Caral Ni Chuilin's department.

Stewards and extra staff could also manage multiple lines for different businesses.

It came as one more Covid-19 death was announced yesterday, bringing the total recorded by the Department of Health to 551.

There were no patients being treated in intensive care for the third day running.

No new deaths were reported in the Republic, but Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed concern over a "worrying trend" of rising cases as well as "some new clusters".

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