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People shielding across NI will be allowed outside from next Monday


Arlene Foster at the briefing yesterday

Arlene Foster at the briefing yesterday

Arlene Foster at the briefing yesterday

People who have been shielding with underlying health conditions and the most vulnerable in society will be allowed to go outside again next Monday, the Executive has announced.

A final decision on the easing of restrictions will be taken on Thursday, and remains dependent on the R rate, the reproductive rate of Covid-19.

Making the announcement as the Department of Health said there had been one further death in Northern Ireland, bringing the total to 524, First Minister Arlene Foster said the time was right to give people hope that things are moving in the right direction.

"The advice to shield will not remain in place any longer than it needs to," she told the Executive's daily press conference.

"It's important to stress that the virus still presents a high risk to anyone in an extra vulnerable group and the advice remains that stay at home is the best way to prevent infection.

"However, with the level of infection in the community falling the risk of exposure is significantly less that it has been over the last two months.

"Therefore, we can advise that from next Monday, June 8, those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with people from their own household or one person from another household, whilst ensuring social distancing.

"We believe that this is a reasonable and proportionate first step and people who are shielding will receive a letter with further advice in the coming days.

"Throughout June we will continue to monitor the progress of the virus and if the rate of transmission continues on a downward trend then we will consider further relaxations for those who are shielding."

Around 80,000 people in Northern Ireland received letters advising them to remain indoors for 12 weeks at the start of the lockdown and the announcement has been welcomed by the British Medical Association as vital for physical and mental health.

"The announcement for patients shielding will be welcomed by many, particularly the individuals in this group who have been the most affected by lockdown measures," said Dr Alan Stout, chair of BMA NI GP committee.

"Being able to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, and see another friend, will benefit their physical and mental health.

"It is vital though that we all still do everything we can to protect ourselves, our most vulnerable and our most at risk. This means that everyone needs to continue to follow the ongoing guidance, social distancing and good hygiene measures, both now and as other measures are eased.

"By working and acting together we will achieve the outcomes that will benefit us all."

Mrs Foster said it was important for the Executive to indicate a positive direction of travel.

"The virus lingers longer inside and we have been blessed by good weather. We recognise these people who are shielding are being asked to stay indoors in very difficult circumstances.

"What we're trying to do is indicate to people that we are listening to concerns, we hear they want hope, that they want to know what's coming down the road. We can only do that in an indicative way.

"We will be criteria-led, but that doesn't mean we can't indicate the direction of travel for those people who have been in the worst type of lockdown for over 10 weeks."

The First Minister also announced that some working in the hospitality sector will be able to reopen from July 20, including hotels, B&Bs and caravan parks.

But there was a warning following several incidents over the weekend which, she said, "showed new evidence of complacency".

"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 said.

"To compound that further, assaulting a police officer is an insult to police, emergency services and health staff who have been putting their lives at risk to prevent widescale death.

"Coronavirus loves mass gatherings.

"Northern Ireland wants to return as quickly as possible to something like the society we had three months ago, but you will prolong that journey if you ignore advice and create conditions where the virus can thrive."

The latest figures showed a further 12 confirmed positive cases of the virus, bringing that total to 4,728. Six people are receiving intensive care treatment because they have the virus or are suspected to have it.

Belfast Telegraph