Social distancing to be reduced from two metres to one metre in Northern Ireland

25 June 2020, 18:09

Northern Ireland will reduce the two metre rule to one metre
Northern Ireland will reduce the two metre rule to one metre. Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

Social distancing in Northern Ireland is to be reduced from two metres to one metre, First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed.

It follows lockdown easing announcements in Scotland and England over the last few days.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson announced that England would be moving to a "1 metre plus" system.

The proposal to reduce restrictions in Northern Ireland was brought by Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

First Minister Arlene Foster said she wants hospitality to open, but businesses "must uphold safety".

She said: "A minimum one-metre distance between individuals can be considered acceptable in circumstances where appropriate mitigations are made."

She said the relaxations had been made through the efforts of people to drive down the rate of infection.

"Northern Ireland is opening up again, however there is an onus on all of us not to ease the fight and vigilance against Covid-19."

Arlene Foster spoke in Stormont today
Arlene Foster spoke in Stormont today. Picture: PA

Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill also announced a series of other likely dates for easing the lockdown further in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster outlined a range of changes to the restrictions. They included:

- Places of worship can reopen from June 29.

- Hotels and restaurants can reopen from July 3.

- Visitor attractions barring museums and galleries can reopen from the same date.

- Nail parlours and beauty salons will wait until July 6.

- Elite athletes will be able to use indoor training facilities from June 29.

- Betting shops can reopen from July 3.

- Tattoo shops and reflexology can open on July 6.

- Playgrounds will be unlocked on July 10 and libraries from July 16.

- Competitive sport begins on July 17.

- Leisure centres can reopen on August 7.

However, Mrs Foster said further outbreaks could be expected as restrictions are relaxed.

"We are prepared for that and will take the appropriate action," she said.

"It is fair to say that there will be clusters across Northern Ireland and we don't want that to come as a surprise when it happens.

"If we manage our social distancing and the public health advice, then we will minimise the risk of those clusters happening."

Michelle O'Neill said there may be mixed reactions
Michelle O'Neill said there may be mixed reactions. Picture: PA

Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the relaxations would be met with mixed reactions.

"For people who have been shielding they will be apprehensive about going out.

"There will be people beating the doors down of nail salons and hair dressers."

She added: "We will have to build confidence that people feel safe and go out and about.

"We will probably have a bit of work to do around building that confidence."

Mrs O'Neill said some businesses would not make it through the pandemic crisis.

She added: "We have been trying to keep helping and giving businesses more scope to be able to open up.

"We hope that the one metre information today will help more people to be viable and to keep jobs and their businesses going, but there is no doubt there will be challenges as the retention (furlough) scheme tapers off."

The decision comes as no new deaths have been reported from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

The number of positive cases rose by 850 to 5,724 due to changes in how data is recorded.

The department's dashboard now includes tests carried out over a number of recent weeks through regional test centres, mobile test units and home testing kits from April 29.