Coronavirus: Single people in NI can stay indoors with loved ones

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

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image source, PA Media
image captionExecutive ministers said they were conscious that families want to reconnect after more than 12 weeks apart

People living alone in NI will be able to stay at one other household as part of further easing of coronavirus restrictions.

First Minister Arlene Foster announced that, from Saturday, single adults can spend the night at another house in a "support bubble".

The executive agreed to the move to "minimise the impact of loneliness and isolation".

The relaxation does not apply to those who are shielding.

The executive met on Thursday and agreed to lift a number of lockdown measures, because the R-number - which measures the rate of infection - is currently estimated as being between 0.5 and 0.9.

'Desire to return to normal life'

One further coronavirus-related death was recorded in Northern Ireland on Thursday, bringing the Department of Health's total number of deaths to 538.

This figure is mostly focused on hospital deaths and where patients tested positive for the virus.

Speaking at Stormont's daily press briefing on Thursday, Mrs Foster said ministers could not yet commit to allowing people who do not live alone to visit family and friends indoors, but said they hope to "take another step forward" next week.

image captionArlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill made the announcements at the Stormont daily briefing on Thursday

"There's a real desire amongst grandparents to see their grandchildren but it is important we take this on a step-by-step basis," she added.

"We're appealing to people not to return to normal behaviour - do not take things for granted and please don't let your guard down," said Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

What can people in NI do now?

Some of the measures agreed by the executive take effect from Friday 12 June.

Groups of up to 10 people who do not live together can meet outdoors, maintaining social distancing.

Ministers recognised there was a "strong desire to return to normal life", said Mrs Foster.

All non-essential retail is due to open from Friday, but shopping centres will now also be permitted to open.

From Friday, places of worship and community centres can facilitate childcare for people who will have to return to work.

But ministers are carrying out work on reopening the childcare sector, with more details to be announced after discussions with the Department of Health on Friday.

Earlier this week, guidance for childminders and day care centres during the pandemic was published.

But some childminders have expressed concerns about plans for the sector, as more people with children prepare to return to their jobs.

Ms O'Neill also said work was under way to see if the executive could, from next week, begin to provide indicative dates for other sectors to reopen.

Northern Ireland's five-stage recovery blueprint does not include a timetable for reopening, with ministers saying they would not be calendar-led.

However, the executive now wants to be able to "signpost" to people that they should get ready, added Mrs Foster.

House moves given green light

From Monday, people in Northern Ireland will be allowed to move house again, after the property market was paused following the imposition of lockdown in March.

However, Ms O'Neill said the process of finding and moving into a new home would be different.

image source, Getty Images

"People will have to accept doing more of the processes online such as virtual viewings," she added, as well as observing strict hygiene practices on visits in person.

Estate agent John Minnis told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme that it was "fantastic news" the sector could reopen.

"We can't keep up with the level of interest, the appetite is definitely there which is very surprising," he said.

"You'll be asked to bring a mask and bring gloves, the estate agent will be in a face shield and they will bring you through the house without the vendor there and without touching anything."

Elite athletes will also be allowed to begin using outdoor sports facilities to train again from Monday.

However, Mrs Foster said ministers had not reached agreement on whether to bring forward the date for hotels and other tourist accommodation to reopen.

It is scheduled for 20 July, but the executive has been facing calls to change it, with the sector in the Republic of Ireland due to open on 29 June.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds will bring a paper to the executive next week on the matter.

What is the social bubble model?

A bubble is defined as an exclusive group of people with whom you have close physical contact.

This can be friends or family.

Members of a bubble would be able to visit one another in their homes, but it would still be important to limit the risk of chains of transmission.

If Household A merges with Household B, Household B could not also link up with another group - Household C - because this would create a chain that could allow the virus to spread widely.

The bubble concept has already been used in New Zealand and is being adopted in England, to allow single people to form support bubbles from Saturday.

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