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Foster warns large gatherings 'not acceptable' as Executive eases restrictions

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First Minister Arlene Foster during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Photo by Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Photo by Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Monday. Photo by Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster has warned the public to exercise restraint as the Executive eases the coronavirus lockdown.

Mrs Foster cited incidents across the country as worrying, criticising ”new evidence of complacency" after the weekend.

“In the worst cases there has been flagrant disregard for public safety, and scenes like the one we witnessed at Ballyholme beach on Friday night are simply not acceptable.”

She warned: “[Coronavirus] still dwells among us and it loves mass gatherings.”

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Crowds enjoy the sunshine at Ballyholme beach, Bangor, Co Down, yesterday

Crowds enjoy the sunshine at Ballyholme beach, Bangor, Co Down, yesterday

Crowds enjoy the sunshine at Ballyholme beach, Bangor, Co Down, yesterday

People who are shielding from Covid-19 will be allowed to socialise outside from next Monday, Mrs Foster confirmed at the Executive daily press conference on Monday.

Those shielding will be able to spend time outside with members of their own household or one person from another household from June 8 and they will be notified by letter over the coming days.

The move comes after the Department of Health announced one further death from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, bringing the total death toll to 524.

The First Minister said if the rate of transmission continues to fall, the Executive will consider easing further restrictions, but that the easing of restrictions is still dependent on the R rate, which will be considered again in Thursday of this week. The current R rate stands around 0.9.

But the First Minister emphasised that the virus still presents a significant risk to “an extremely vulnerable group” but said this was a “reasonable and proportionate first step”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the partial lifting of some restrictions are “baby steps but they are baby steps in the right direction”.

The latest easing included confirmation of the indicative date of July 20 for some hospitality businesses to re-open.

Mrs Foster said news of hotels and other forms of accommodation including B&Bs reopening on July 20 is positive to allow businesses to look forward and plan for the future.

“We have listened very carefully to our tourism providers. Booking holidays takes time. They needed an indicative date. It is not set in stone. If things move in a better way we may even be able to do things sooner.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill did warn that it would not be ‘business as usual”.

“People may be able go to caravans and self-catering accommodation sooner than the scheduled date of 20 July given that they are self-contained units”.

“Again this will depend on the scientific advice as we move through the next weeks and days,” she said.

“But it won't be business as usual. We all know that."

Belfast Telegraph