Vaccine passports will not be required in pubs, restaurants and cinemas from next week, it has been announced.
Nightclubs can also reopen again from next week as part of a number of relaxations announced by the Northern Ireland Executive.
A statement from the Executive said that ministers were updated today by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who have confirmed that we are likely to be past the peak in case numbers, although it remains possible that case numbers may rebound somewhat due to the impact of the return of schools.
“Hospital admissions and COVID bed occupancy as a result of community transmission have also peaked and are beginning to fall slowly. Based on current data, a rise in COVID ICU occupancy is not expected in this wave,” it said.
“The measures put in place in response to Omicron were a balanced and proportionate intervention based on the best available evidence. However, the improved outlook on hospital pressures allows us to relax some restrictions within the next week.”
The Executive has agreed the following steps:
From 21 January at 12 noon:
In hospitality settings - the requirement to be seated whilst consuming food and/or drink and for table service in premises that provide alcohol will be removed as will the rule of six.
In domestic settings - guidance regarding the cap on the number households meeting indoors will be removed. (A maximum number of 30 people permitted to gather will be retained in regulation.)
On face coverings – the requirement to provide proof of exemption will be removed and the reasonable excuse of ‘severe distress’ will be reintroduced.
The guidance on working from home will revert to working from home where you can with employers encouraged to facilitate this.
The Executive has also been advised by the Department of Health that the minimum self-isolation period for people testing positive for COVID-19 will be reduced to five full days, subject to negative lateral flow tests on days five and six of their isolation.
From 26 January at 12 noon:
Nightclubs will be permitted to open.
Dancing and indoor standing events can resume.
In relation to COVID-status certification – the legal requirement will continue to apply in relation to nightclubs and indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 people or more. For other settings where COVID status certificates are currently required, guidance would strongly encourage their continued use.
In workplaces - the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for 2m social distancing will be removed. Guidance remains in place that risk assessments should be carried out.
All remaining COVID measures will be reviewed by the Executive on 10 February.
the legal duty on retail to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission;
the legal requirement to wear face coverings and the associated duty on businesses to take reasonable measures to ensure compliance;
the legal requirement for risk assessments in prescribed settings;
the legal requirement for recording visitor information in prescribed settings;
the remaining legal requirements in relation to Covid-status certification; and
the guidance on the regular use of LFD testing, and in particular before meeting up with others.
"I think the public will be pleased with these decisions that we've been able to take," First Minister, Paul Givan said.
"It's proportionate, it reflects the changing circumstances that we have in respect of Covid and it is a step in the right direction."
The relaxations were welcomed as a “good, positive” step by deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill.
"We've got to this point because of public support, we encourage that to remain in the time ahead."
She added: "This progress is to be welcomed but it doesn't mean that we get complacent."
Speaking earlier to the media, Mr Givan said that there would still be areas within the Autumn and Winter contingency plan which would be looked at again on February 10.
In England face coverings are to be no longer mandated, however Michelle O’Neill said that this would not be something that the Executive would be covering at the current time.
“We’re asking people to still follow that protection, because it is a protection and I would foresee that that would remain for a bit of the period ahead,” she said.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, we still have to be cautious but we do have room to be optimistic.”