sundaylife

| 11.2°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Families from different households to be allowed to socialise in bubbles next month

Families allowed to socialise in 'bubbles' if there's no spike as drive-in cinemas, churches and golf to open

Close

Kids visit their gran

Kids visit their gran

Kids visit their gran

Relatives from different households will finally be allowed to spend time together without social distancing from next month - if there is no spike in coronavirus cases.

And on Monday Stormont leaders are set to announce relaxations of rules to allow drive-in cinemas, concerts and church services and the reopening of golf courses during this week.

But it's the pressure on politicians for families to be allowed to meet up which has led to plans to allow "social bubbles" next month.

The social bubbles proposal was deliberately held back from the five-step roadmap published by the Executive last Tuesday, charting Northern Ireland's way out of lockdown.

Sunday Life understands this was over fears that any delay in its implementation would cause major public unrest and lead to virus restrictions being flaunted.

"The biggest complaint coming from the public is around the inability to meet up with family, for parents to see their children, grandparents to hug their grandchildren," explained an Executive source.

"Social bubbling is one way to solve this, in part, and if the virus reproductive rate stays at a manageable level we should expect to see this introduced in mid-June.

"For it to work the public have to be disciplined. That is why it wasn't mentioned in the five-step recovery plan because to dangle the prospect of it, and then take it away, would cause major unrest."

Social bubbles are expected to be included in Step 3 of the plan, likely to be introduced in mid-June, and would involve two dedicated households being allowed to mingle indoors.

However, those within this group are banned from close contact with anyone else.

This is to ensure that all contacts are traceable if one were to become infected with Covid-19.

The social bubble concept has been successfully implemented in New Zealand, which is leading the world in the fight against the pandemic, and is also being considered by the Scottish government.

Executive sources say it will help tackle the break-up of close families, one of the biggest issues caused by the virus.

But they warned that like all of the five steps out of lockdown, it depends on the rate of new deaths and infections being low, and the crucial R infection rate staying below 1. This means that for every person suffering from Covid-19, they infect less than one other. The R rate is currently hovering around the 0.7 mark.

Four new deaths yesterday brought Northern Ireland's overall virus fatality rate to 473, with Belfast the worst affected suffering 146 deaths. However, that figure primarily covers hospitals meaning it will be higher when deaths in the community are added. Another 40 positive cases of Covid-19 were also announced, taking the total here since the outbreak began to 4,357.

Across the UK a further 468 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 34,466.

In the Irish Republic the death toll has risen to 1,533 after a further 15 deaths were announced yesterday. With another 92 cases confirmed, the number of new coronavirus infections there has dropped to its lowest level in two months.

The latest statistics were published as garden centres and household recycling centres were making preparations to reopen on Monday.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots was pictured at a waste facility in Ballymena to kick-start the initiative, telling the public to only visit if they could not use their bins to dispose of unwanted items. Angling will also be permitted at the start of the week as Northern Ireland takes its first tentative steps out of lockdown. Marriages involving someone with a terminal illness can also go ahead.

Other relaxations set to be announced by Stormont leaders on Friday include drive-in church services, concerts and cinemas, and the reopening of golf courses later in the week.

Civil servants are understood to have been liaising with religious leaders to ensure social distancing measures can be implemented.

An Executive source said an easy way for this to work is for worshippers from the same household to stay in their cars while services took place. The same would apply for drive-in concerts and cinemas. Anticipating this the Devenish complex in west Belfast has been advertising plans to show movies on a big screen in its carpark.

Meanwhile, Stormont's economy minister Diane Dodds (left) has been warned that many small businesses are in desperation after finding out they are not eligible for a new coronavirus support fund.

Sole traders and some social enterprises are not able to apply for a new £40million Hardship Fund for micro-businesses.

Belfast Telegraph