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'Significant progress' over lifting of NI Covid restrictions, says Paul Givan


First Minister Paul Givan

First Minister Paul Givan

First Minister Paul Givan

The First and Deputy First Ministers have said that "significant progress" will be made today as some Covid restrictions will be lifted

They were in Derry to cut the sod on a new 152 bed, 4-star hotel at Ebrington which will create 120 jobs.

Asked if hospitality will get news today that Covid passports will be removed, First Minister Paul Givan said they worked late last night to understand where Omicron is in the community in terms of pressure it is creating in the health service and they have a "much more positive picture now" which gives them room to make decisions.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

He said pressures on the health system have not materialised as some feared they would.

"I'm hopeful that we will be able to make changes to hospitality, to nightclubs in terms of the prohibition on dancing and that is something to be welcomed."

The First Minister said NI didn't follow the path of the Republic of Ireland, nor England and the other devolved nations.

Mr Givan added that "significant progress" would be made today.  Some other issues, including face coverings will be reviewed on February 10.

Michelle O'Neill said the pandemic is far from over but the Executive is "cautiously optimistic" and believe the peak has passed.

That allows some restrictions to be reversed, she said, while asking people to avoid complacency.

"I do think that after our Executive meeting we'll be able to say positive things that will be welcomed by both individuals and the hospitality sector," she added.

It was put to the First and Deputy First Minister that Nichola Mallon had not received any papers and felt "squeezed out" of discussions and proposals but they insisted no decisions will be taken until the Executive meeting at 2pm on Thursday.

A separate paper is also being considered around £4m support for the private bus and coach sector.

Addressing the matter of an apology for victims of historical abuse they acknowledged that they were wronged by the state and it is "right and proper" that they receive a full apology on March 11.

It was also accepted that they have waited too long for truth and justice.

While in the North West the ministers were asked about the promise in New Decade, New Approach to expand Ulster University's Magee campus to 10,000 students.

Michelle O'Neill said they are fully committed to the expansion of Magee and are "edging closer to that 10,000".

Student numbers at the campus are however lower now that they were in 2014/15.  Latest figures show 4,237 are currently enrolled at the campus whereas in 2014/15 there were 5,098.

Health science courses will move to the campus next year increasing numbers.

Mr Givan pointed to delivery of the medical school at Magee, said there will be additional resource in the draft budget and stressed that it was "very important" to invest in Coleraine too.

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