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Dodds seeks formal review of social distancing measures

The Stormont economy minister was speaking as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the two-metre rule will be eased to one metre in England.

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Northern Ireland economy minister Diane Dodds is seeking a formal review of social distancing measures (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland economy minister Diane Dodds is seeking a formal review of social distancing measures (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland economy minister Diane Dodds is seeking a formal review of social distancing measures (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s economy minister is seeking a formal review of social distancing measures.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people should remain two metres apart where possible but a “one metre-plus” rule will be introduced in England.

Mr Johnson said people would be encouraged to use “mitigation” – such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face – when within 2m of each other and “where it is possible to keep 2m apart, people should”.

Diane Dodds said: “I have made no secret of advocating on behalf of the industry.

“At one metre our restaurants and hotels, our coffee shops, are more viable than at two metres social distance.

“I wrote to my Executive colleagues and indicated that we should formally review that social distancing advice.

“We want our tourism industry to be sustained and be sustainable into the future and we need to make sure that the provision is there for them to do that in a way that is safe with all reasonable mitigation measures in place.”

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Health minister Robin Swann (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Health minister Robin Swann (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

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Health minister Robin Swann (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Health minister Robin Swann described the social distance relaxation in England as a “significant announcement” but said advice in Northern Ireland remains at two metres.

“We still believe that social distancing is a crucial tool in our fight against Covid-19, our recommendation still remains at two metres,” he told the daily coronavirus briefing at Stormont on Tuesday.

“We will discuss further with the Executive on Thursday and if the Executive comes to a policy decision to reduce from two metres, that is one the Executive will take.”

Chief medical officer Michael McBride said these are “finely balanced matters”.

“A number of countries across Europe have taken different policy decisions on opting for one metre, one-and-a-half metres, two metres, but as the minister says, those are policy decisions and there are a range of very complex factors that need to be weighed in the balance here,” he said.

On Monday, First Minister Arlene Foster said the Stormont Executive is keeping the two-metre social distancing guideline “under review”.

One additional coronavirus-linked death was announced in the region on Tuesday, bringing the death toll recorded by the Department of Health to 546.

However, no new cases were confirmed through tests conducted in health trust labs in the region, with the total recorded by the labs since the outbreak began remaining at 4,871.

We are in a good place as regards to today, in our second day with zero positive cases, we have still one death, there is still one family bereavedRobin Swann

Meanwhile, Mr Swann said he had no doubt that the handling of the pandemic is likely to be examined by inquiries at a later date.

“Do I think ‘couldn’t we have done some things differently?’. Yes, had we the rule book, had we the ability of hindsight that we have now, yes there are different steps we could have taken,” he said.

“But we’re not through this yet. We are in a good place as regards to today, in our second day with zero positive cases, we have still one death, there is still one family bereaved.

“This battle continues and as my role as health minister, that’s the fight that I’m still fighting.”

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Northern Ireland chief medical officer Michael McBride (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland chief medical officer Michael McBride (Niall Carson/PA)

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Northern Ireland chief medical officer Michael McBride (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr McBride added that there will be “a time and a place” for looking back at decisions, but warned there is a “long way to run in this pandemic yet”.

“I think it’s a matter of time, despite our best efforts, that because of how transmissible this virus is that we will see localised outbreaks,” he said.

“What’s hugely important is that individuals who get symptoms get tested and that our contact tracing system to test, isolate and protect is working efficiently and effectively.

“I do envisage that we will see clusters of outbreaks in the months ahead.”

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