O’Neill ‘can’t say definitively’ if planned easing of Covid rules will go ahead

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister “can’t definitively say” if planned easing of coronavirus regulations will be ratified this week.

Michelle O’Neill was speaking as daily Covid-19 case numbers continue to increase day on day in the region.

The next planned easing to apply from July 26 include reducing the legal requirement for social distancing to one metre indoors and removing it for all outdoor activities and public transport, as well as allowing more than three households to meet in a private dwelling and stay overnight.

An indicative date of July 26 has also been set for the return of audiences in theatres, concert halls and other venues, as well as the return of conferences and exhibitions.

Coronavirus – Mon May 24, 2021
Customers returning to indoor hospitality at D&G’s Bistro Cafe at Smithfield Market in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Those decisions are due to be ratified at the next meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday.

Ms O’Neill said ministers will discuss the current situation.

“We also expect to receive advice from the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser around can we proceed with the easements which we had previously announced but said we would ratify at this Thursdays’ Executive,” she said.

“I am yet to see that information so I can’t say definitively around what will happen next.”

Ms O’Neill said she was “quite disturbed” by images of so-called freedom day in England as most legal limits on social contacts are removed.

She described the approach of Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “reckless”.

“This isn’t England, we have always set our own path throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so,” she said.

“I would be quite disturbed by some of the imagery which I’ve witnessed in the last 24 hours – that includes people getting together whenever cases are clearly on the rise.

“Here in our own situation, cases are on the rise, hospitalisations are on the rise, so people need to be very, very careful in the time ahead.”

On Monday, a further 1,776 cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health.

Some 537 new cases were reported on Sunday, 1,402 cases reported on Saturday and 1,380 on Friday.

Ms O’Neill said: “With over 1,700 cases today people are right to be concerned again.

“We all need to redouble our efforts in terms of social distancing, washing hands, following the public health advice and guidance at this time.”

“It’s very, very clear, and certainly the people I’m speaking to over the weekend, people are alarmed again. People are worried just about the rising cases so people need to be very, very careful to mind themselves and mind others around them as well.”

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One further death of a patient who had previously tested positive for the virus was also notified on Monday, bringing the toll to 2,163.

Hospital patient numbers are also increasing.

On Monday, morning there were 109 Covid-19 positive patients in hospital, with seven in intensive care.

Meanwhile the Department of Health announced that fully vaccinated people arriving from France to Northern Ireland must continue to quarantine for 10 days.

Anyone arriving from amber countries who have been fully vaccinated, will no longer have to quarantine, although they will still need to comply with necessary testing requirements.

However, the department said this will not apply to France following the persistent presence of cases in France of the Beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

The move today brings Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.