Reopening of theatres among Covid relaxation measures agreed for North

Wearing face masks in places of worship to be changed from requirement to guidance in North

Social distancing sign in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Social distancing sign in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire


Audiences can return to theatres and concert venues in the North from Tuesday, the Stormont Executive has agreed.

After a meeting of the power-sharing administration on Monday afternoon, a number of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 are to be eased.

From 6pm on Tuesday, live performances can resume before crowds in purpose-built venues.

Shows must be ticket-only, with tickets to be bought in advance, and audiences will have to remain seated in allocated seats with social distancing of one metre apart.

Also agreed in the easing of restrictions is that up to 10 people from no more than three households can meet inside a home.

Churchgoers will also be able to remove face masks during services. While it will be recommended that face masks continue to be worn in places of worship, it will be guidance only and no longer a regulation.

Worshipers must continue to wear a face mask when entering or leaving their place of worship.

In another easing of restrictions, customers at MOT tests - the equivalent of NCT tests - can share their vehicle with an examiner for five minutes as long as both are wearing a face covering.

The Executive is to meet again on Thursday when the further easing of other restrictions are to be considered.

These include the possibility of scrapping all social distancing regulations for outdoors, while reducing the legal requirement for social distancing indoors to one metre.

The return of conferences and exhibitions will also be discussed by Stormont ministers, along with a resumption of indoor music in the likes of hotel functions rooms and other venues.

The further easing of restrictions was announced as hospital authorities warned surgeries were being canceled in the North because of a “considerable increase” in the number of patients being admitted with Covid-19.

On Monday, the Belfast Trust, which runs City Hospital, the Royal Victoria and the Mater in Belfast, warned there has also been a subsequent rise in admissions into intensive care.

“Currently we are providing care for 100 patients with Covid 19 in addition to patients and service users who need our care and support for non-covid related reasons,” a spokeswoman said.

“This has placed a significant degree of pressure on our staff and we appreciate every effort they are making to continue to deliver the highest standard of care.”

The trust said it was predicting admission rates for Covid 19 would continue to “increase for some days” and that it has developed “a number of contingencies” to help it cope.

“In addition to the cancellation of 96 non-time critical elective surgeries last week, we are considering further elective cancellations to provide additional staffing capacity,” she added.

“This is never a decision we take lightly and reflects the magnitude of the situation we are facing.”

A further 639 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said. No further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for the virus have been notified. On Monday morning there were 208 Covid-19 positive patients in hospital, with 25 in intensive care. In total, 2, 208,466 vaccines have been administered.