Northern Ireland news

Social distancing to end in hospitality venues and nightclubs to reopen

The Executive will ask event organisers and venues to voluntarily introduce entry systems requiring patrons to either prove full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test, or evidence of a Covid infection within the previous six months
David Young, PA

Stormont ministers have agreed to remove a legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants.

The one-metre rule will be removed for the hospitality sector on October 31.

From the same date, nightclubs can also reopen.

Customers will be able to move around all hospitality premises freely again and dancing will be permitted once more.

The Executive will ask event organisers and venues to voluntarily introduce entry systems requiring patrons to either prove full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test, or evidence of a Covid infection within the previous six months.

The decisions were taken as ministers convened today to consider the remaining Covid-19 rules.

They also agreed a number of other relaxations.

Those include the removal of a cap on the number of people who can gather in indoor domestic settings. The current limit of 15 people from no more than four households will lapse on October 14.

On the same date, audience members will no longer need to be seated when watching indoor performances.

The October 31 date for the other relaxations affecting hospitality has been set to give Stormont officials sufficient time to engage with the sector on implementing mitigation measures.

Speaking to the media after the Executive meeting, First Minister Paul Givan said ministers had discussed the pathway for easing the restrictions.

He said: "I'm pleased that by the end of October we will have had restrictions on a wide range of issues completed at that point.

"There will be three areas left; that will be the wearing of face coverings in some limited areas, when it comes to the retention of risk assessments and also the retention of data around visitors to venues and hospitality.

"They will be low-level mitigation measures which will stay in law, there will be guidance when it comes to a lot of the sectors that are operating across our society and economy that will remain in place in a voluntary guidance format."

He added: "By the end of October we will have moved to the point where there are three areas that we will continue to look at over the course of the winter and will likely remain as low-level regulatory interventions.

"On October 14 we will have changes in terms of numbers around the domestic settings and tourist accommodation. That will be limited still in respect of house parties and raves. That will happen on October 14 and the remaining areas then at the end of October.

"The deputy first minister and I met with hospitality representatives this morning and we are very much wanting to have a partnership with them and that is why we are able to move forward with the social distancing being relaxed because of their commitments to us."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was wise to continue to be cautious and prudent.

She added: "There are measures which we don't want to be in a place to introduce but we have to be ready for that just in case we get to that point."

Ms O'Neill said that would include a vaccine passport and a return of social distancing.

"We're going to do everything we can to avoid getting to that point," she added.

During the meeting, it is understood ministers were told by officials that indoor seated venues that have introduced vaccine/test proof entry requirements in recent weeks have seen a 99% compliance rate among patrons.

Meanwhile, a further four patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died in the last 24 hours.

Another 1,305 cases of the virus were also notified by the Department of Health.

This morning, there were 359 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 33 were in intensive care.

A total of 2,542,757 vaccines have been administered in total.

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