Coronavirus: Long queues form as Ikea in Belfast reopens

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A long queue has gathered outside furniture giant Ikea in Belfast as the store reopened.

It comes after concerns were expressed about crowds gathering at a number of locations at the weekend after a run of very good weather in Northern Ireland.

People in the Ikea queue were well spaced. There was no suggestion of social distancing breaches.

A Queen's University Belfast virologist said opening the store was, in her opinion, "a bad idea".

Dr Lindsay Broadbent said that Ikea "attracts people from all over the island [of Ireland]."

"Smaller local retailers, that can easily control numbers and social distancing, should be open long before massive stores," she told BBC Newsline.

She said the shop would need to be cleaned "constantly," as people may touch surfaces.

'High level of compliance'

The company has reopened 19 of its stores across England and Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland's chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Young told BBC Good Morning it was "disappointing to see evidence of larger crowds gathering against the recommendations around maintaining social distancing".

"We are moving into a stage where we are looking for a relatively small number of people to agree to self-isolate for limited periods so the vast majority of society can return gradually to a more normal life," he said.

"That does represent a challenge," he added.

However, he said that it was "fortunate" the approach to the Covid-19 epidemic in Northern Ireland has "largely been one of partnership and there has been a high level of compliance among the population".

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image captionA PSNI officer views the crowd enjoying the Sunday sunshine at Ballyholme beach before any trouble broke out

On Sunday, the PSNI chief constable told the BBC there had been gatherings at beauty spots.

Simon Byrne said officers had used the "three E's approach - engage, explain and encourage".

image copyrightBBC Sport

"On a few occasions, however, people haven't complied," he said, paying tribute to the officers attacked in Bangor.

He also said there had been parking issues around the Mourne Mountains.

He said with people taking advantage of the good weather, officers had been busy but no "stand-out incidents of concern".

"Small roads and car parks were really busy which affects the movements of those who live there so we have been enforcing parking restrictions more than Covid," he explained

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What's different at Ikea?

Seasoned Ikea shoppers have been warned that the experience may be a "little different" in the era of coronavirus.

Shoppers have been told to come armed with a well-prepared list with item numbers and their own bags.

The furniture chain said "social-distancing wardens" would be stationed throughout stores to help customers navigate the new layouts.

As with other stores that have announced plans to reopen, Ikea said only a limited number of shoppers would be allowed into its shops when they reopen.

There will be a staggered entry system in place and restrictions on car parking, it said.

Screens will be put in place at checkouts and extra hand sanitiser facilities will be put in place, the chain promised.

All play areas and the restaurants will remain closed.

"While the experience might be a little different to before - it's the same Ikea," Peter Jelkeby, the chain's boss for the UK and Ireland, said.

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