Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: More retailers to reopen in plan to further ease lockdown

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily coronavirus media broadcast. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA
Brendan Hughes

A REOPENING of more retailers and small outdoor weddings will be permitted from June 8 if the coronavirus infection rate remains under control, the first and deputy first minister have said.

Large stores like car showrooms and those in retail parks stocking household electrical appliances, computer equipment, mobile phones and furniture will be able to open their doors.

Indoor household gatherings of people are not yet being allowed, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill confirmed.

There was also no movement on indoor church services, which Catholic bishops are hoping to advance by drawing up an all-island framework document on proposed social distancing measures.

Activities to be permitted include:

:: Weddings limited to 10 people or fewer.

:: Hotels will be allowed to take forward bookings – but at their own risk, as no date was set for reopening.

:: Taking pets or non-farm animals for treatment or grooming.

:: Outdoor sports courts reopened.

"Today represents forward momentum," Ms O'Neill said, but she warned they needed to be confident the rate of transmission (R) had not risen above one.

The deputy first minister said it takes two or three weeks to properly monitor how the disease has spread.

It will be June 8 before they know what the impact has been from earlier easements, such as allowing small groups to meet outdoors, solitary prayer at churches and reopening of garden centres.

The executive will meet again on June 4 to make a final decision.

Mrs Foster revealed Stormont's key messaging will focus on two themes from now on: "Stay safe, save lives. Work safe, save lives."

She acknowledged some would be disappointed that ministers could not go further in lifting restrictions, but warned of continuing concern about the R rate.

"Too many relaxations too quickly can push it back up into the territory that we do not want it to be in," she said.

Asked by The Irish News whether ministers would consider relaxing the 'two-metre rule' amid debate in the south on this point, Ms O'Neill said it would be kept "under review".

She said the advice from chief scientific officer Prof Ian Young favoured people remaining two metres apart.

The deputy first minister said: "He is very clear in saying that the further apart you are, the lower the risk.

"He indicated that the closer you are, the greater the risk.

"He also said that a few seconds together at one metre is the same as 15 minutes together at two metres."

Ms O'Neill said ministers recognised the sacrifices being made by the public.

"Anyone choosing to ignore the public health advice could be extending lockdown for all of us," she added.

She said only five per cent of the population has been infected.

"We have always said coming out of this will be more difficult than going into it," she added.

"We have also said we would take into account the wider health, economic and societal issues.

"We want a prosperous economy at the other side of this. We've got some momentum today, we hope to build on that next week."

Traffic flow on Tuesday was up 11.5 per cent compared to the previous week.

Supermarket sales have set a 26-year record recently, while takeaway business is up 250 per cent, the ministers said.

They also said 99 health and social care workers had been redeployed as coronavirus contact tracers.

Over the seven days to Monday, 212 cases were followed up – about 30 per day.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news