Easing of restrictions still on course: O’Neill

Planned easing of coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland on October 31 remains on course, Michelle O’Neill has said.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 9:09 am

The Deputy First Minister said ministers remained committed to steps that include the reopening of nightclubs and the removal of social distancing rules for bars and restaurants.

Her comments come after the Irish government scaled back the extent of Covid-19 restrictions it had planned to lift tomorrow amid rising case numbers.

Stormont ministers are due to meet today.

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

Ms O’Neill said she expected some clarification to emerge after that meeting in respect of the hospitality sector, such as guidance on mask wearing.

The Sinn Fein vice-president said Northern Ireland was facing a “difficult winter”.

“I think we need to be very cautious over the winter months because it is going to be a difficult period – our hospital services are already under huge pressure, our health and social care staff are under huge pressure,” she said.

“So I think the focus in going forward is going to be, how do we keep that pressure off the hospital system as best we can, how do we ensure people have access to see their GPs when they need them?

“So I think there are a number of challenges ahead of us but we keep a very cautious brief and a very cautious watch on all of that and we work with the health department to take ourselves through what I think everybody can describe as what’s going to be very difficult winter.”

Ms O’Neill said ministers were not considering stepping back from the planned relaxations.

“As I stand here today, no that’s not the intention. Our intention is to proceed as we have planned on October 31,” she said.

“However, as we’ve always done throughout the pandemic, when we make an easement or lift some of the restrictions it takes a number of weeks to understand the impact of that.

“So we have to keep a very cautious watch on this as we tread very carefully through these winter months ahead.

“So it’s been a character of the pandemic the whole way through – two steps forward, one step back.

“But I’ve always said that I wanted to see us keep moving forward.

“So that’s why it has to be a steady, slow progression out of the restrictions.

“I think we’ve done well to get to this point, but I just think none of us need to be complacent and the strongest message we have for the public is get your vaccination, get your booster vaccination, take up your flu vaccination and also then just be very careful – all of our behaviours, just be sensible and be cautious.”