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Coronavirus Northern Ireland: All shops to open and housing market back in business after latest easing of restrictions


First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the daily briefing

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the daily briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the daily briefing

People who live alone will be allowed to stay at one other household from tomorrow as part of a raft of lockdown relaxation measures.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill announced yesterday that, following advice from medical and scientific experts, the Executive had agreed to move forward in a number of areas.

This came after one person died from Covid-19 following four days of no reported deaths here. The death toll now stands at 538.

There were also four new cases of the virus, bringing the total number of cases since the outbreak began to 4,822.

Relaxations agreed by the Executive yesterday include:

• People living alone and who are not shielding will be able to spend the night in one other household from tomorrow.

• All retailers, including those in shopping centres, will be able to reopen today.

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• People will be able to view properties and move home.

• Elite athletes will be allowed to start training again from June 15.

• Child care centres in places such as church halls and community centres can begin operating from today.

• The number of people who can meet outside is increased from six to 10, with social distancing measures in place.

The Department of Health announced before yesterday's Covid-19 briefing that the local infection rate stood between 0.5 and 0.9, allowing the Executive to ease the restrictions.

Speaking during the briefing, DUP leader Mrs Foster said the risk of further waves of Covid-19 was "very real" and that the public must continue to be cautious to avoid overwhelming the health system.

She added that relaxations for people working in close contact occupations, such as driving instructors and hairdressers, would be considered in due course.

The Executive will next week discuss bringing forward the date on which caravan parks, hotels and restaurants will be allowed to reopen.

Commenting on the one-metre versus two-metre social distancing argument, Mrs Foster said the Executive had held a detailed discussion.

"Obviously, people have a lot of questions around what we need to do to facilitate schools, our tourism sector and many other sectors," she said.

"We are living with the virus and we're going to be living with the virus for some time to come.

"As well as talking about the two-metre and-one metre rule today, we spent a little time looking at 'what-if' scenarios in terms of what if the infection number went above 1 again? What would that look like?

"That's something we always have to keep in the back of our mind because whilst, of course, we want to open up and get back to normality, we have to say to people that we do have to be cautious and we do have to take it step by step.

"It's all about the cumulative impact of these relaxations. We don't (want) the virus to get to a situation where it's transmitting again in the community."

Sinn Fein vice-president Mrs O'Neill said that while she understood that people wanted to return to normal life, the pandemic was not over.

"We're still in the midst of this. We have to be careful. We have to keep making progress, but we have to be gradual about it," she added.

"We have always said that we won't allow things to continue for longer than necessary, so this is a piece of work that is kept continually under review. We just need to remind people (of the danger). The information we got from the scientific officer around a potential second wave... we have to be very careful around all these things."

Health Minister Robin Swann said that the relaxation measures came with a "serious responsibility" for everyone to strictly follow public health guidelines.

"I urge everyone not to underestimate the threat of this virus or the possibility of a second wave of infection and keep working with us until Covid-19 is defeated," he said.

Ben Collins, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, welcomed the announcement that the housing market was to reopen.

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