Up to six people can meet indoors from today as lockdown eased in Northern Ireland

Up to six people will be able to meet indoors from today in a “milestone” for Northern Ireland‘s recovery from coronavirus lockdown, ministers have said.

Suppression of the virus’ spread has prompted the devolved government to quicken its relaxation of social-distancing restrictions.

People will still be required to maintain social distancing when meeting indoors with family and friends.

The announcement means Northern Ireland will become the first part of the UK to permit limited indoor gatherings.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The Executive has reached another new milestone.”

Earlier this month, ministers approved the creation of indoor social bubbles involving one person living on their own and another household, without the need for social-distancing restrictions, to combat loneliness and isolation.

The announcement came after one new case of Covid-19 was recorded by Stormont’s Department of Health since Sunday, and no more deaths.

From July 6, vulnerable people who are shielding from infection will be able to meet up to six people outside the home, as long as social distancing is strictly observed, the health department said separately.

People who are shielding and living alone will be able to form a support bubble from July 6 with one other household.

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Ministers have been under pressure for weeks to enable freer association to enable families to reunite after months apart.

Tasks like informal childcare will become easier as part of the flexible and common sense measure, the powersharing administration at Stormont said.

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Mrs Foster added: “Many of you have been desperate in recent weeks to visit your family and friends inside your homes and you will very much welcome this announcement.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the change was intended to make informal, flexible, childcare possible.

She added: “This arrangement provides a balance between enabling much-needed social contact, enhancing support networks and allowing informal childcare arrangements to resume.

“This is a crucial development in alleviating some of the childcare pressures being felt by parents at present.”

The Executive is continuing to maintain two metres for social distancing, and has not made face coverings mandatory in enclosed places like public transport.

Ms O’Neill said: “The advice today from both the chief scientific officer and the chief medical officer was that we’re in a position where we should be strongly recommending face coverings, and particularly in circumstances where you can’t socially distance or the room isn’t well ventilated, or indeed public transport.”

Traffic wardens were back on the beat on Monday after the suspension of on-street parking charges was lifted.

From June 26, caravan parks, campsites and self-contained tourist accommodation will be able to reopen.

A week later, on July 3, hotels, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pubs and bars will be able to welcome customers back.

Church services are set to resume on June 29, while a provisional date for hair salons, barbers and nail bars to reopen has been set for July 6.

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Guidance advising people in high-risk categories to shield indoors is to be paused at the end of July.

Stormont ministers have also announced plans for childcare services to start to look after more children over the summer.

They also want to maximise the number of children who can return to school on a full-time basis in the autumn by reducing the social- distancing measure for pupils from two metres to one.


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