Michelle O’Neill: No plans to relax social distancing rules in NI yet

There are no plans to remove the one-metre plus social distancing rule in Northern Ireland, the deputy first minister has said.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 6:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:21 am

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated the rule in Britain could be ditched next month.

The final decision on whether the change can be brought in from June 21 will depend on the data, he added.

Michelle O’Neill said there have been no discussions in the Stormont Executive for a similar move, however she said the conversation will be had “in due course”.

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Michelle O'Neill said a conversation on the rules would happen ‘in due course’

“I have noted Boris Johnson’s commentary, however the health minister hasn’t brought such a proposal to the Executive at this point for discussion but I’m sure that over due course, that is a discussion that we will have to have,” she told MLAs.

“We make our decisions based on the advice from our own public health team, and certainly at this moment in time there is no advice that suggests that this is where we can change things.

“Ultimately of course it’s where we want to get to but it has to be done in a safe and steady way, it has to be done in a way that doesn’t walk us into a corner where we would have to reverse.

“There are still risks out there, there are new variants, we need to be very very careful.”

Northern Ireland has enjoyed a number of lockdown relaxations in recent weeks, including the reopening of outdoor hospitality and non-essential retail.

However, some pubs and cafes say they have been unable to reopen following unsuccessful inspections, despite, they have argued, having the same outdoor facilities that were in place last summer when they were allowed to reopen following the first lockdown.

Ms O’Neill said different council areas have taken different approaches, and that junior ministers are working with the councils to co-ordinate.

She said there should not be a “blade of grass” of difference of approach.

“We are winning in the battle against Covid, and with the public’s continued support, we will continue in this positive vein, however there does seem to have been some disparity of approach and we will try to rectify that,” she told MLAs.