Coronavirus: NI Executive to review lockdown regulations

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In Northern Ireland, groups of up to six people can meet outdoors, as long as they stay two metres apart

The Stormont executive is to meet later for its latest review of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

The laws initially took effect on 28 March, but must be re-assessed every three weeks.

Ministers have already moved to slowly ease some restrictions, by implementing parts of a five-step recovery plan.

But they are not thought to be considering announcing significant changes after Thursday’s meeting.

This week has seen a reduction in the number of deaths; on Tuesday, for the first time in 10 weeks, the health department said it had recorded no coronavirus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours.

But while the figures are encouraging, Stormont sources say it is still too early to move to the next stage of the Pathway to Recovery, says BBC News NI political correspondent Stephen Walker.

Pathway, but no timetable

Ministers will receive the latest scientific advice from Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical and Chief Scientific Officers, and look at the impact the relaxing of some lockdown measures has had on the R-number, or reproduction value – the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

Earlier in May, the Stormont executive published its five-phase Pathway to Recovery but, unlike restriction-easing plans laid out in England and the Republic of Ireland, this did not include a firm timetable.

Stormont ministers say not every aspect of each step of their plan will take effect at the same time, and will depend on the R-number remaining as low as possible.

Last week, Health Minister Robin Swann said the R-number in NI was between 0.7 and 0.8.

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Media captionWhat does the ease in restrictions mean for people in Northern Ireland?

Why does the R-number matter?

As R refers to the average number of people that someone with Covid-19 is expected to infect, the goal is to keep R below one to prevent the spread of the virus.

Robin Swann has said plans are in place to publish the figure on a weekly basis, to show trends in line with some lockdown measures being lifted.

Prof Ian Young, the Chief Scientific Adviser, has said there are a number of other factors guiding officials.

For example, the number of daily new cases needs to be low in order for contact tracing, testing and isolating to work properly, he said.

The number of hospital admissions and critical care patients is being closely monitored as well, to ensure the R-number is kept low.

 

In Northern Ireland, groups of up to six people can meet outdoors, as long as they follow social-distancing guidelines and stay two metres apart.

First Minister Arlene Foster had previously said ministers would revisit whether relatives who do not live together would be allowed meet indoors.

This measure is the only element of step one of the Stormont recovery plan that has not been allowed to go ahead.

Last week, the executive agreed to allow:

  • Churches and places of worship to reopen for private prayer
  • Outdoor activities that did not involve shared contact with hard surfaces – such as golf, water sports and tennis
  • Drive-in cinemas and drive-in music events

Timeline for businesses?

There have also been calls for Northern Ireland’s shops to be provided with a timetable for reopening.

In England, all non-essential retailers can open from 15 June.

On Wednesday, Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots said he believed it would be useful to provide businesses with a timeframe – but stressed that any decisions would be taken in line with advice ministers received.

“Hopefully in the next week we can look at what we can move on next and how we can facilitate bringing back a degree of normality,” he said.

It will be a “huge challenge” for the executive, and any decisions must be based on the scientific advice, added the DUP minister.

 
 

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