Simplifying travel and social distancing regulations will make them easier to follow, says Justice Minister
Stormont has agreed to relax international travel regulations and ease Covid-19 social distancing rules but postponed a decision for a fortnight on whether to allow conferences and exhibitions to return.
The issue of face masks in schools was also pushed back until an Executive meeting on August 12.
The relaxation of travel rules is in line with similar measures in England, Scotland and Wales.
From Monday, fully vaccinated travellers from the US, EU amber states and several other countries, including Norway and Switzerland, will be allowed to enter Northern Ireland without the need to quarantine.
Concerns about the Beta variant of Covid-19 mean France has been excluded from the new arrangements.
The Executive has also agreed to let Uefa VIP guests and Villarreal fans coming to Belfast for the Super Cup final against Chelsea on August 11 to enter the country without isolating.
Chelsea fans travelling from England for the showpiece match are not subject to any travel restrictions.
The relaxations came as another 1,471 positive coronavirus cases were reported by the Department of Health yesterday, down from the 1,600 recorded on Wednesday.
The department also reported two Covid-related deaths in the previous 24 hours.
In total, 2,239,652 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland.
There are 234 patients with a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis in hospitals, down from 244 on Wednesday.
There are 31 Covid patients in intensive care units, down by one from the previous day, with 25 people currently on ventilators, a rise of two.
The Executive agreed to the return of international cruise travel in and out of Northern Ireland from Saturday.
Managed isolation arrangements for international students arriving from red-list countries ahead of the new academic term were also approved, with the measures coming into effect on August 9.
A bespoke Covid-19 testing regime for international travellers whose jobs qualify them for isolation exemptions was also signed off by the Executive.
It will come into effect on Monday.
At yesterday’s virtual Executive meeting, ministers relaxed some of the rules and guidance around social distancing.
All indoor settings will now apply a one-metre social distancing rule.
This will bring retail and shopping centres, where a two-metre rule currently applies, into line with the regulations for other indoor venues such as hospitality outlets.
In outdoor settings, social distancing is not a requirement but is instead urged in guidance.
The guidance previously suggested two metres as an appropriate distance.
That will change to urge a distance of between one and two metres.
Stormont also extended a decision on allowing the return of live music at theatres and concert venues to cover other indoor venues, such as hotel function rooms and community halls.
There will be no restriction on volume level.
Dancing will not be permitted at indoor events and a social distance of one metre will be required.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said the point of relaxing some Covid regulations was to make it easier for people to understand the rules.
“The purpose of most of the changes that were made today was to try to simplify the regulations so that people have a clear understanding of how the rules will apply,” she told the BBC.
“With relaxations — and this happened in the phase we went through last summer — you get into these situations where there are anomalies.
“It is important that every so often we take stock and we try to simplify them because what we know from experience is that adherence has been pretty good in terms of people sticking to the regulations where they are clear and where they understand them.
“So, simplifying the rules — and that includes the rules around international travel, so that people in England and Wales are following the same rules as people in Scotland and Northern Ireland — actually assists people in terms of being able to keep in line with the rules.
“Of course, it is a concern and I would continue to encourage people to do all the things we have been asking them to do.”
The Executive will today publish a cross-departmental plan aimed at accelerating economic, health and societal recovery following the pandemic.
The document, called Building Forward: Consolidated Covid Recovery Plan, draws together the plans already formulated by various Stormont departments into an all-encompassing blueprint.
“We have developed the integrated recovery plan to inform our priorities to accelerate recovery over a 24-month period through focused, collaborative working,” the paper said.
“The plan details 83 highly impactful interventions that will be progressed over the next 24 months to deliver recovery for all our citizens under four strategic recovery accelerators: sustainable economic development; green growth and sustainability; tackling inequalities; and health of the population.
“These work together to ensure we can emerge stronger from the pandemic.”