Northern Ireland news

Relaxed Covid-19 self-isolation and hospitality rules come into effect

The north’s hospitality sector took a severe hit from the emergence of the Omicron variant in December
David Young, Jonathan McCambridge and Rebecca Black, PA

New rules on Covid self-isolation and tabke service in restaurants and bars have come into effect in Northern Ireland.

The required self-isolation period following a positive Covid test has been reduced from seven days, with positive cases now able to leave isolation on day six providing they have had two negative lateral flow tests, at least 24 hours apart, no earlier than day five and day six.

The requirement to remain seated and the limit of six per table at hospitality venues has also been removed as of noon today.

The cap on the number of households meeting inside domestic settings has also been removed, as has the requirement to provide proof of exemption for not wearing a face covering. The guidance on working from home has now reverted to working from home where you can.

The dropping of a requirement for Covid certification to enter some hospitality venues and the reopening of nightclubs in Northern Ireland is to happen from January 26.

From the same date, dancing and indoor standing events can resume, and in workplaces the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for two-metre social distancing will also be removed.

The legal requirement for Covid certification will continue in nightclubs, and indoor unseated or partially-seated events with 500 people or more.

For other settings the certification will no longer be required but its use encouraged.

The moves have been greeted by First Minister Paul Givan, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, other political parties and Hospitality Ulster as a “welcome step forward”.

Ms O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann sounded a note of caution and urged the continued following of guidance and vaccination.

 

 

Mr Givan and Ms O’Neill chaired a virtual meeting of the Executive during a trip to Derry yesterday.

Mr Givan said he was delighted at the consensus within the Executive over the relaxation of restrictions.

He said there had been “very welcome progress” and described the Executive’s meeting on February 10 as an “important meeting for those outstanding measures that are still in place”.

“Until that point, if changes are to be made, I encourage people to follow the regulations and listen to that public health advice,” he said.

“But I think the public will be pleased with these decisions that we’ve been able to take.

“It’s proportionate, it reflects the changing circumstances that we have in respect of Covid, and it is a step in the right direction, and hopefully we will continue to make progress at our meeting on February 10.”

Ms O’Neill also welcomed the move but urged continued caution.

She said Northern Ireland has passed the peak of Omicron cases.

“There was probably 18,000 cases per day at a point over the last number of weeks, we have had very high levels of cases, but we are past that peak in terms of both case numbers but also, crucially, hospital admissions, and I think that’s an important factor,” she said.

“All of our decisions today are based on the best scientific and medical advice that we have, so I’m glad that we’ve been able to make this progress, but again I would just like to strike that note of caution.”

Health Minister Robin Swann urged cautious optimism.

He paid tribute to co-operation from the public and the vaccination programme for bringing the region to this point.

“Cautious optimism will serve us best as we look towards a better future,” he said.

“There are still major uncertainties with this pandemic including the potential for a secondary peak in the coming days and weeks.

“We must stick to the approach that has produced dividends. That includes ongoing efforts to get more people boosted and vaccinated.”

He added: “We must remain ready for all eventualities, while planning for further easing of restrictions just as soon as the situation allows.”

Laws requiring people to prove Covid status to gain entry to a range of hospitality venues and large-attendance events were introduced last November.

The move proved politically contentious, with Mr Givan’s DUP party voting against the scheme while the other four Stormont Executive parties backed it.

Nightclubs have been closed in Northern Ireland since December 26 as part of a series of restrictions agreed on December 22 in response to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The agreed relaxations are expected to be part of a phased approach to the lifting of remaining Covid restrictions in the north.

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