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Coronavirus: Thousands in Northern Ireland allowed to 'pause' shielding from July 31

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First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Credit: Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Credit: Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Credit: Pacemaker

Around 80,000 people in Northern Ireland who have been "shielding" during the lockdown have been told they will be able to "pause" the measure from July 31.

The variation of the restriction for those who are self-isolating who have underlying health conditions was announced on Monday at the Stormont Covid-19 briefing.

The development came as the Executive quickened the pace of the lockdown easing after meeting earlier on Monday.

Up to six people - not from the same household - will be able to meet indoors while using social distancing from Tuesday.

The announcement came after one new case of Covid-19 was recorded by Stormont's Department of Health since Sunday and no further deaths were reported.

First Minister Arlene Foster said updated letters will be sent out to those shielding, advising them they can now "pause" the measure from July 31.

She said the step had been taken "given the current low levels of virus transmission".

In the meantime, Mrs Foster added, from July 6 vulnerable people who are shielding will be able to meet up to six people outside the home, as long as social distancing is strictly observed.

Addressing the lifting of restrictions in relation from Tuesday, she stressed that effective hygiene steps - such a hand-washing - must be maintained.

From July 6, vulnerable people who are shielding will be able to meet up to six people outside the home, as long as social distancing is strictly observed, the health department said.

People who are shielding and living alone will be able to form a support bubble from July 6 with one other household.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said scientific evidence seen by the Northern Ireland Executive on Monday allowed it to make the decision to allow six people to meet indoors.

Transmission of Covid-19 within the community was now very low, she explained.

"This arrangement provides a balance between enabling much-needed social contact, enhancing support networks and allowing informal childcare arrangements to resume," she said.

"This is a crucial development in alleviating some of the childcare pressures being felt by parents at present."

Mrs Foster praised the people of Northern Ireland for adhering to the restrictions, saying she was "proud", but also cautioned that the virus has not yet gone away, and warned against complacency.

"Covid-19 still has the capacity to wreak havoc again as unfortunately we're seeing in Beijing in recent days where they have discovered a dramatic rise in infections at hotspots and also in Germany and as we look at north Wales as well to see the clusters that have developed there," she said.

"Complacency is a luxury that we cannot afford."

She added: "We've had to deal with a novel coronavirus whose behaviours are still not fully understood, and whose symptoms can vary among those who are unlucky enough to contact it. Some people have been fortunate to have little or no symptoms. For others the consequences have been severe."

Belfast Telegraph