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All Covid-19 rules may be ended in Northern Ireland in 20 days

Vaccine passports in pubs among restrictions dropped amid hint rest of measures to end soon  

Stormont leaders lifted a number of Covid-19 restrictions on Thursday, as First Minister Paul Givan said it was time society got back to normal.

In what was one of the better news days since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials told the Executive we are now past the peak of the Omicron variant surge.

Covid-19 hospital admissions have plunged from 274 to 189 in the past week, while the number of inpatients dropped from 511 to 402 in the same period.

The Executive also indicated all remaining restrictions, such as legal requirements on face masks and regular lateral flow testing, could be scrapped at its next meeting in three weeks.

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Meanwhile, another two deaths linked to the virus were recorded by the Department of Health on Thursday and a further 3,879 positive cases.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions included:

  • From Friday, the removal of table service and the requirement to be seated in hospitality venues,
  • Guidance regarding the number of households meeting indoors was scrapped,
  • The requirement to provide proof of face mask exemption is no longer necessary and guidance on working from home was changed to “working from home where you can”,
  • The self-isolation period was also reduced to five days, depending on negative lateral flow test results,
  • From Wednesday, nightclubs can reopen, and dancing and indoor events can resume,
  • Nightclubs and events with more than 500 people must continue to check for Covid-status certificates, but it is no longer necessary in pubs and restaurants; and
  • Offices no longer need to implement two-metre social distancing.

Speaking during Thursday’s announcement, Mr Givan said he was “delighted” at the decisions taken by the Executive.

“The February 10 date will be an important meeting now for those outstanding measures that are still in place,” he added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was a “good day and hopeful day” but urged a note of caution and continued to advise the public to take up the offer of a vaccine.

Publicans were thrilled with the easing of the restrictions as the industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Belfast publican Pedro Donald, who owns the Sunflower Bar on Union Street and The American Bar at the docks, said it was “absolutely fantastic news”.

“The costs have gone up because we’ve needed extra staff to do the door and do the table service, but the income has gone down,” he said. “It’s been a disaster so it is such a relief.”

The owner of Belfast city pub Bittles Bar, John Bittles, was relieved to see the end of Covid-19 certification, as checking everything from mobile apps to PCR test results had proved to be a difficult task.

“It’s January, you have bills to pay, you’ve staff to pay so I think the general consensus is we’re really glad to see it but I think for the sake of a week, they should have lifted the Covid passport as well,” said Mr Bittles.

General manager of Moira’s Pretty Mary’s, Joe Webb, was glad to see the return of dancing in venues as it will allow the Co Down pub to bring back its popular live music evenings.

“There was no point in having music on unless people could dance,” said Mr Webb. “Its definitely a very welcome step forward for the industry.”

Elsewhere, Belfast’s DJ Tez told Evening Extra that the Executive must explain why nightclubs need to continue to ask for Covid-19 certification.


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