Stormont ministers have agreed to end social distancing restrictions on shops, theaters and a number of other indoor venues in Northern Ireland.

At a Monday night meeting, ministers agreed to remove the one-meter distance requirement for the retail sector, indoor attractions and indoor seating areas.

Ministers agreed to strengthen guidance for business and site owners to mitigate the impact of the return to full capacity.

Prime Minister Paul Givan tweeted: “Progress made after a constructive executive meeting to remove social distancing requirements for indoor sitting places, indoor tourist attractions and retail locations.

“Advice will be provided on steps that can be taken to mitigate the risks. “

The measures are due to come into force Thursday from 6 p.m. On October 7, the hospitality sector will be given more consideration.

The executive said that despite the removal of the social distancing requirement, “we would ask people to keep a minimum of face to face contact at all times.”

A statement from the executive said: “With the end of the leave scheduled to end in a few days, we are very aware of the financial burden on businesses that are not yet able to operate at full capacity due to current restrictions on social distancing and the very real concerns of those. people whose jobs are threatened.

“The executive today reviewed existing regulations and agreed to remove the legal requirement to socially distance oneself in domestic and retail tourist attractions.

“We ask those responsible for these sites and those who frequent them to continue to use all other available mitigation measures, such as hand sanitization, good ventilation and the use of one-way systems as far as possible. possible.

“Wearing a face cover remains a legal obligation in these settings.

“The executive also decided to remove the social distancing requirement in indoor venues such as theaters, concert halls and cinemas.”
Advice includes installing screens, one-way systems and increased ventilation.

Regarding sites sitting indoors, ministers will issue additional guidance to sites advising them to introduce entry policies that require proof of Covid-19 vaccination, negative lateral flow testing, or proof of ” a positive PCR test within the previous six months.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon objected to the decision to release the guidelines in an advisory capacity.

Ms. Mallon proposed that the steps be mandatory. She also wanted the measure to be stepped up to mean that customers had to present vaccine certification and negative lateral flow test or proof of infection within the past six months.

The PA news agency understands that Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long backed his proposal, but other executive ministers, including Health Minister Robin Swann, voted against.

On the vote on the original proposal to make recommendations for guidance only, Ms Mallon voted against and Ms Long abstained.

The possibility for Stormont to introduce compulsory Covid passports for access to the sites was not decided during the virtual meeting on Monday.

But it should feature prominently in meetings next week.

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has expressed doubts over the use of compulsory vaccine passports in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney / PA)

Earlier Monday, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons expressed doubts over the use of compulsory vaccine passports in Northern Ireland.

His comments suggest the issue could become a sticking point for parties within the executive, given that Sinn Fein has made it clear that he will be open to vaccine certification if the decision is recommended by heads of government. health.

The SDLP called last week for the introduction of a program as a way to increase immunization rates.

As English authorities have suspended plans for vaccine passports, Scottish and Welsh administrations are introducing programs next month.

A program to access pubs and restaurants in the Republic of Ireland, which has been credited with raising vaccination rates among young people, is scheduled to end on October 22.

Mr Lyons has said he wants social distancing measures removed as soon as possible, due to declining rates of Covid transmission and hospitalization in Northern Ireland.

But he said he didn’t believe vaccine certification was an appropriate way to ease the removal of the restriction.

“I don’t think we’re in that space anymore,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“We have almost 90% of our adult population vaccinated and now you see the impact that also has on the rate of transmission and hospitalizations. “

Mr Lyons said the project would present “legal and human rights issues”.

Sinn Fein Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill also raised human rights concerns about such a move.

However, last week she suggested she would still be “very open” to a passport regime if it could be shown to contribute to the “greater good” of tackling the spread of Covid-19.

Four more deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland on Monday, along with 903 new confirmed cases of the virus.

As of Monday morning, there were 345 Covid-19 patients in the hospital, including 28 in intensive care.