Covid-19: Executive agrees on theatre and concert reopening

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The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed that theatres and concert venues can reopen from 18:00 on Tuesday.

Ministers met earlier after delaying the decision, saying they wanted more information about risks.

There have been other modest changes to Covid-19 restrictions, including an increase in the number of people who can meet indoors.

Ten people from three households will also be allowed to meet inside a home.

As part of the move to allow theatres and concert venues to reopen, the executive has agreed live music will be permitted for rehearsals and performances with no restriction to background ambient levels of volume.

Audience members must purchase tickets in advance, must have allocated seating and social distancing of 1m (3ft) will be required.

'Music to my ears'

Áine McCarron, marketing officer at the Playhouse in Londonderry, said she was delighted by the news.

"It's music to my ears, I just can't believe it that we have finally been given the go ahead," Ms McCarron told BBC News NI.

She said it was now important to "build confidence among audience members who come through our doors".

"We can very easily sit people 1m apart under our seating place and we can contract trace because we operate through a booking system already," she said.

image captionThe Lyric Theatre will be operating at a third of overall capacity for Tuesday's production of Dracula

Julie McKegney, head of customer services at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, said the industry had "been waiting for this news since March 2020".

The theatre will be operating at a third of its overall capacity for Tuesday's production of Dracula.

Speaking to BBC Evening Extra, Ms McKegney said there would be requirements for guests to follow upon entry.

"They'll come in to the box office here that's behind perspex screens, where they'll be directed over to a sign-in point with their QR code - that's mandatory," she said.

"All venues have to take details of a person's first name, surname, a method of contact and a time and date of when they were in attendance for track and trace purposes."

'Kick in the teeth'

However, Belfast singer-songwriter Sir Van Morrison, who has been an outspoken critic of the Northern Ireland Executive's coronavirus restrictions, described Monday's announcement as "shambolic".

image captionSir Van Morrison had to cancel a series of gigs in Belfast last month due to Covid-19 restrictions

"The announcement has come so late in the day that it's a kick in the teeth," Sir Van said.

"Cancelled concerts that were planned for this week could have gone ahead.

"Regrettably like many other sectors, there's been no advance warning, no plan or roadmap for the industry.

"Stormont have lost the confidence in the public and are clearly deaf to our industry when making decisions."

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey welcomed the return of theatres and concerts.

She said: "I expect all venue promoters to have safety measures in place to ensure that staff and audiences are in a Covid safe environment.

"I believe that equality of access to the arts, be that through participation or as a member of the audience, is crucial and I look forward to attending a performance in the time ahead."

Ms Hargey said she will meet with the chairwoman of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce later in the week to discuss financial support for the sector.

Socialising at home

Ten people from three households will be allowed to meet inside a home, with children aged 12 and under not counting towards that total.

Previously the rules permitted six people from two households to meet inside, with up to 10 people allowed if one household was bigger than six people.

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image captionMinisters also agreed that people attending religious services will not have to wear face coverings during the service

The Northern Ireland Executive also agreed that people attending religious services will not have to wear face coverings during the service. It will be guidance only to wear a covering.

It will still be a legal requirement to masks when entering and exiting the building.

Ministers will also strongly advise their use when singing or when moving around during services.

This all amounts to another move towards life after lockdown - changes that will be very welcome in different parts of society.

There will be relief in the arts sector - it means indoor plays, concerts and other performances can at last go ahead with restrictions.

This is another step towards the life we all used to lead but in the background there is concern about the rising number of Covid cases.

It is a day about change but there is still much caution in the air.

Earlier on Monday other rules changed, including allowing 15 people from unlimited households to meet outdoors and close-contact services being allowed to operate without the need for pre-booked appointments.

The executive will meet again on Thursday to consider other Covid-19 restrictions.

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