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One-metre rule more viable for hospitality industry, says minister

Diane Dodds said she wanted to safely reopen pubs and restaurants sooner rather than later.

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It would be more viable for the hospitality industry to operate under one metre social distancing, Northern Ireland’s economy minister Diane Dodds said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA).

It would be more viable for the hospitality industry to operate under one metre social distancing, Northern Ireland’s economy minister Diane Dodds said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA).

It would be more viable for the hospitality industry to operate under one metre social distancing, Northern Ireland’s economy minister Diane Dodds said (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA).

It would be more viable for the hospitality industry to operate under one-metre social distancing, Northern Ireland’s economy minister has said.

Diane Dodds said she wanted to safely reopen pubs and restaurants sooner rather than later.

Businesses have been devastated by the enforced coronavirus shutdown since March.

What we do in relation to these measures is guided by the scienceDiane Dodds

Hotels have enjoyed a “huge” increase in bookings since the Executive agreed to set an indicative reopening date of July 20, a tourism chief said.

Mrs Dodds acknowledged other countries had adopted one-metre social distancing guidelines – half that encouraged in Northern Ireland.

“What we do in relation to these measures is guided by the science,” she said.

“It is absolutely clear that it becomes more viable for restaurants and hotels to operate under the one-metre guideline rather than the two-metre guideline.”

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said hotels had enjoyed a huge rise in the number of bookings since the Executive agreed to set a date.

All of this will be driven by public safety being paramount and us being able to convince others that they can be content that it is safe for visitors to comeJohn McGrillen

He added tourists would not want to come if they did not feel safe.

“All of this will be driven by public safety being paramount and us being able to convince others that they can be content that it is safe for visitors to come,” he said.

Another eight coronavirus deaths were announced in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. Six of those occurred in May and April but have only recently been recorded as having a Covid-19 link.

It took the overall toll recorded by Stormont’s Department of Health – a total that primarily covers hospital deaths – to 534.

Northern Ireland’s rate of infection, the number of other people one infected person infects, is just below one.

Chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young and Health Minister Robin Swann appeared before Stormont’s health committee on Wednesday and praised the public for driving down that rate.

More nuanced advice could be prepared for the most vulnerable groups shielding from coronavirus, Stormont’s chief scientific adviser said.

Fresh letters are due to go out in Northern Ireland over coming weeks to thousands of people with serious underlying health conditions.

The risk of another wave of infection could be greater this autumn and winter, Prof Young added.

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Bank holiday crowds at the beach at Helen’s Bay in Co Down (Liam McBurney/PA)

Bank holiday crowds at the beach at Helen’s Bay in Co Down (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Bank holiday crowds at the beach at Helen’s Bay in Co Down (Liam McBurney/PA)

People with serious underlying health conditions have expressed frustration that some people are flouting social distancing advice on beaches, while others have remained indoors for 10 weeks.

Prof Young said: “Those who have been shielding have given up a considerable sacrifice and have suffered significantly as a result of that.

“The risk to an individual if they contract the virus remains as severe as it has ever been, but as the level of transmission is much lower in the community then their risk of being exposed is less than it was in the past.

“That may allow more nuanced advice.”

About 80,000 people have received official letters urging them to remain at home at all times and arrange delivery of food and medicine.

PA