Covid-19 regulations significantly eased in North

Changes to rules on socialising described as ‘a step in the right direction’ by Paul Givan

The requirement for Covid certification to enter some hospitality venues has been dropped and nightclubs are to be allowed to reopen following a review of the Covid-19 rules in place in the North.

Ministers agreed a number of easements at a meeting of the Northern Executive on Thursday.

The North's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor told ministers it was "likely" Northern Ireland had passed the peak in terms of numbers of Covid-19 cases, though it was possible they could "rebound somewhat" due to the impact of the return of schools.

All remaining restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 will be reviewed by the Executive on February 10th, including the legal requirement to wear face coverings.

The changes were described by the hospitality industry as a “welcome step forward”.

Northern Ireland's First Minister, Paul Givan, said the changes were "proportionate, it reflects the changing circumstances that we have in respect of Covid, and it is a step in the right direction".

He said that while the meeting on February 10th would be an “important meeting for those outstanding measures that are still in place” people should continue “to follow the regulations and listen to that public health advice” until then.

The Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, said Northern Ireland had passed the peak of both Omicron cases and hospital admissions, and ministers’ decisions were based on the scientific and medical advice.

“It is a good positive step today,” she said. “We do remain cautiously optimistic but we still ask the public to work with us.

“We will continue to keep the remaining restrictions under review ... today’s progress is to be welcomed but it doesn’t mean that we get complacent, it means that we double down on the remaining measures that are there and still remain cautious,” she said.

From noon on Friday, January 21st, the requirement to be seated when eating or drinking and for table service in premises serving alcohol will be dropped, and the limit of no more than six people per table will be removed.

In domestic settings, guidance on the number of households allowed to meet indoors will be removed.

People who are not wearing face coverings will no longer be required to provide proof of exemption, and the reasonable excuse of “severe distress” will be reintroduced.

Guidance on working from home will revert to working from home “where you can”, with employers encouraged to facilitate this.

From noon on January 26th nightclubs will be permitted to reopen and dancing and indoor standing events can resume.

The legal requirement for Covid certification will be removed for most venues, though its continued use will be “strongly encouraged” in guidance.

Covid certification will remain mandatory for nightclubs and indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 people or more.

In workplaces the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures to ensure two metre social distancing will be removed, but guidance around risk assessments will remain.

On Thursday, the North's Department of Health reported the deaths of a further two people with Covid-19, and another 3,879 positive cases.

A total of 402 patients with Covid-19 were receiving hospital treatment, with 24 in intensive care.