Pub reopenings in North pushed back, masks to become mandatory

Move follows a notable rise in infections in Northern Ireland with 43 new cases recorded

New inductive date for reopening is September 1st. Photograph: iStock

New inductive date for reopening is September 1st. Photograph: iStock

 

The Northern Executive has decided to delay the opening of pubs which do not sell food and make the wearing of masks mandatory in shops from Monday.

It also decided that all schools, including special schools, are to open on a full time basis, five days a week when the term restarts at the end of August and early September.

These decisions were taken on a day when there was a sharp rise in the number of cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland and when the R-rate - the number of individuals who, on average, will be infected by a single person with the infection – was estimated at between 0.8 and 1.8, which means it is likely to be above one.

Any reading above one means the virus is spreading.

First Minister Arlene Foster said on Thursday the Northern Executive had decided to delay the reopening of all pubs in Northern Ireland, which was due to happen on Monday, to an “indicative date” of September 1st.

“We have decided that it is prudent to pause the reopening of our public houses,” she said.

Ms Foster said the decision was “not a reflection on the hospitality sector, rather a reflection on the fact that our R-rate has risen”.

At present in Northern Ireland only pubs that serve food can open. People are allowed to drink in pub beer gardens without having to purchase food.

Ms Foster also said that from Monday the wearing of face masks will be mandatory in shops and other enclosed spaces for the public.

Hitherto the plan was to wait until August 20th to determine if a sufficient number of people wear masks on a voluntary basis before deciding whether a compulsory rule was necessary.

Ms Foster said the Northern Executive had decided that from Monday customers must wear masks although it will not be mandatory for staff to wear face coverings.

The North’s education Minister Peter Weir said on Thursday schools would reopen for all pupils at the beginning of the new term which, depending on the school, happens in late August or early September.

“It is positive news for our parents, for our teachers, for society as a while but particularly for our young people that they are able to fully access education,” he said.

He said “where possible” social distancing would be observed. “The idea would be to have the maximum level of social distancing but the overriding issue is to ensure that we have the full classes,” said Mr Weir.

Previously, the rule was that there must be a one metre distance between pupils but that rule has now been relaxed. Teachers and other adults must maintain a one-metre distance from each other.

“School will be a very safe place to be. There is nowhere that is risk free but we will do everything that we can to mitigate the risk,” said Mr Weir.

The announcements came on a day when the department of health for the 24th consecutive day reported no Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland, leaving the death toll at 556.

However, it recorded 43 new cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland, which compared with just ten reported cases on Wednesday and eight on Tuesday.

The North’s health Minister Robin Swann said the high number of cases was a “wake-up call for the complacent”.

He also said the increase in the R-rate underlined “the fact that the threat from the virus remains very real”.

“If anyone still thinks Covid-19 is going to fade away, let them think again. We must all do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus,” said Mr Swann.

Asked if the decision was a trade-off between opening schools and keeping non-food serving pubs closed Ms Foster said, “I make no apologies for the fact that we are prioritising schools.”

Ms Foster said the Executive is launching a public information campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of face coverings. The “Wear one for Everyone” campaign will be rolled out over the coming weeks.

Ms Foster added theatre and concert halls can open on a restricted basis from August 8th, with an indicative date of September 1st for the return of audiences.

“We are going to permit spectators to be present at indoor sporting venues from August 10th but we have also said that further work is needed to risk assess the reopening of soft play areas and other venues,” she said.