Northern Ireland ministers will meet later to consider further easing of Covid-19 rules, with restrictions on the hospitality sector to be a key focus.
Prime Minister Paul Givan last month signaled that October 14 could see significant changes in the coronavirus measures that continue to apply in the region, but that any decision would be subject to executive approval. today.
Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill issued a cautious note on the prospect of major easing, stressing the need for a precautionary approach to ensure the pressured health service is not overwhelmed by a further increase in cases .
Last week, ministers agreed to end social distancing restrictions on shops, theaters and a number of other indoor environments.
They have issued strengthened guidelines for business and site owners to mitigate the impact of returning to full capacity.
However, ministers have not taken a decision on the hospitality sector and capacity remains limited in bars and restaurants due to the ongoing social distancing requirement of one meter.
At Thursday’s meeting, the executive is expected to discuss whether this rule should now be removed for host institutions as well and, if so, what mitigation measures should accompany it.
Last week’s move to end social distancing in retail, indoor attractions, and indoor sit-down venues proved controversial as ministers clashed over whether mandatory vaccine passports should be introduced as an entry condition.
SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon proposed mandatory certification of the Covid vaccine for entry into meeting rooms indoors, but was outvoted by other ministers, who instead decided to issue guidelines recommending the use of proof of vaccine as an entry requirement.
They suggested that sites could also use a negative lateral flow test result or proof of a positive PCR test within the previous six months as other means of entry.
Health Minister Robin Swann subsequently expressed frustration at the failure of the executive to develop a certification system that could be rolled out in Northern Ireland if needed.
He said he did not support Ms Mallon’s proposal to make passports mandatory for indoor venues, as such a program was “neither accepted nor ready”.
The issue of vaccine certification is expected to be in discussions again on Thursday as ministers consider potential mitigation measures if they allow the hospitality industry to return to full capacity.
Besides social distancing in the hospitality industry, other areas still covered by regulations or guidance in Northern Ireland are:
– Numbers allowed to congregate in domestic indoor environments
– Ban on major house parties and indoor raves
– The message of the executive “work from home as much as possible”
– The need to be seated to consume food and drink in a welcoming setting
– The need to be seated during indoor musical events and the ban on dancing
– The obligation to wear face coverings in interior spaces such as retail businesses and public transport
– The need to carry out risk assessments to organize events
– The obligation to take the coordinates in certain parameters.