Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann has announced that all of Northern Ireland's COVID-19 legal restrictions will be replaced by guidance from today (Tuesday 15 February).
The Restrictions That Are Being Removed
According to a statement published on health-ni.gov.uk, the restrictions that are being removed in law are requirements regarding hospitality venues, including those outdoors under an occasional licence; requirements regarding tourist accommodation; requirements regarding theatres, concert halls, conference and exhibition centres and other indoor venues used for performance, conferences or exhibitions; requirements regarding any organised indoor gathering over 15 or outdoor gathering over 30; requirements regarding weddings and civil partnership ceremonies; requirements regarding close contact services; requirements regarding funerals and wakes; requirements regarding shops; the requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public areas of premises including restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs, public transport, driving instruction and close contact services; and the requirement to use COVID-19 certification in nightclubs and indoor unseated gatherings of over 500.
According to the statement published on health-ni.gov.uk, at present, there are no plans for changes to the current arrangements for testing, contact tracing and isolation in Northern Ireland, and the importance of wearing face coverings in health and social care settings, on public transport and in enclosed indoor settings continues to be strongly emphasised.
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Additionally, according to the statement, despite COVID-19 status certification no longer being legally required in any settings, hospitality and entertainment venues are still encouraged to use it, and vaccine certification will continue to be available to the public, including for individuals who require it for overseas travel.
Statements By Minister Swann
Minister Swann has also strongly emphasised the continuing need for caution and vigilance regarding COVID-19, according to the statement, which included a statement from Minister Swann, in which he said, "Today's announcement follows consideration of legal advice from the Attorney General and consultation with all ministerial colleagues. It moves our response against COVID into a new phase. With the reduced threat from the Omicron variant, we can move away from an emergency and legalistic framework to a new approach where making safer choices is embedded in our daily lives.
"That means all of us continuing to do our best to cut down risks of infection and transmission. It means looking after each other by following the public health guidance. It must always be remembered that taking unnecessary risks with COVID may affect people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
"So please do not jump the gun and start behaving as if the pandemic is over. That is not the case.
"While omicron is less severe than previous strains of the virus, community transmission remains very high and hospital pressures significant. The most vulnerable as a result of underlying disease remain susceptible to severe illness and it is important that we all do what we can to protect them.”
Swann continued, "Coronavirus is likely to stay with us in some form for some time. We cannot maintain emergency restrictions indefinitely. A large part of what we currently do to protect ourselves is already covered by guidance rather than regulations. This includes self-isolating when infected and taking lateral flow tests before meeting up with others. The guidance will continue to emphasise all the steps that we should keep taking to protect each other.
"I will, of course, keep the situation on regulations under ongoing and detailed review. We cannot rule out a new variant emerging down the line with new interventions being required. I very much hope that will not be the case."
According to the statement published on health-ni-gov.uk, the announcement having of the easing of regulations was made after the latest public health assessment from the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser was received by Minister Swann, who added, "The expectation from the public health assessments is that no significant rise in ICU occupancy is expected.
"While many people will very much welcome my decision on regulations, I know there will be concerns. Community transmission is still very high and our hospitals remain under severe pressure.
"A sustained effort to follow the public health guidance will help reduce infection numbers and support our health service."
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