Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Amendment No. 9) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 21st July 2020.

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Photo of Declan Kearney Declan Kearney Sinn Féin 10:30 am, 21st July 2020

There are two motions before the Assembly today, and with your permission I will address both of those in my remarks. I will begin by outlining the changes brought about by these regulations and the reasons behind the Executive's decisions.

First, amendment No 9 contained only one substantive amendment. Regulations 6, 6(a) and 6(b), which place restrictions on gatherings, are amended to allow for gatherings of up to 30 people in public places and outdoors. Allowing up to 30 people who are not members of the same household to meet together outdoors is consistent with step 3 of Executive's approach to decision-making. The Executive considered that this relaxation would offer benefits in terms of personal well-being, the promotion of responsible social interaction and a sense of a gradual return to normality. I am sure that we would all welcome that. It means that, for the first time in many months, our citizens have the opportunity to meet with their friends and family and share time together.

Secondly, amendment No 10 contained a set of substantive amendments that reflect decisions taken by the Executive on 2 July. Those decisions were taken after careful consideration of the available scientific and medical advice, and they are line with the timetable of indicative dates previously published by the Executive in order to facilitate the reopening of businesses and other services. The amendments include that regulation 5 on restrictions on movements and regulations 6(a) and 6(b) on restrictions on gatherings are amended to permit the reopening of museums, galleries and betting shops from 3 July.

Regulations 5, 6(a) and 6(b) are also amended to permit the reopening of massage, tattooing and piercing businesses from 6 July, and to permit the reopening of spas from 6 July, but not insofar as they provide services relating to water or steam.

Regulations 5, 6(a) and 6(b) are further amended to permit the restricted opening of restaurants and bars in registered clubs from 3 July.

Some changes have also been made for reasons of consistency and clarity. First, the reference in regulation 5 to who might attend a funeral has been removed, now that the number of people permitted to gather outside has been increased. Secondly, a change has been made to regulation 6 to clarify that summer schools and schemes can operate. Thirdly, technical amendments have been made to regulations 3 and 6 to correct the numbering of sub-paragraphs and to clarify that beer gardens can sell and serve alcohol without food.

These relaxations are aimed at boosting well-being and allowing our citizens to re-engage with our tourism, cultural and service infrastructure. They will assist in the restart of the economy by helping to protect the jobs of those who work in those sectors and their wider supply chains, and, importantly, will contribute towards an increased sense of normality.

As I explained before, the Executive will not be rushed into making decisions simply as a result of artificial deadlines or to match decisions taking place in other jurisdictions. As we have discussed in the past, we have come a long way from when the coronavirus restriction regulations were first laid. We have seen great progress as a result of everyone's concerted efforts in the intervening period.

Regrettably, other places have not experienced our relative progress to date.

D’éirigh leis na rialacha agus le cur chuige an Fheidmeannais maidir leis na srianta a mhaolú agus tá siad ag obair de réir a chéile. The regulations and the Executive's approach to easing restrictions have worked and are continuing to work. Sábháladh beatha. Lives have been saved. Our health and social care systems have not been overwhelmed. Businesses are beginning to reopen and services are returning. Our citizens for the first time in a long time are beginning to enjoy being able to do more, but it is important to acknowledge that the battle against COVID-19 is far from over. We cannot afford to drop our guard for a moment when it comes to keeping people safe.

All those relaxations were agreed on the basis of the most up to date medical and scientific advice. Crucially, they were adopted with the stipulation that all relevant public guidance and mitigating measures be implemented in advance of those sectors reopening.

I will now take the opportunity to note some of the other changes that have been agreed since the amendment regulations being debated today were laid. On Thursday 9 July, the Executive agreed a range of other measures. Those included the reopening of cinemas, bingo halls, amusement arcades, indoor fitness suites, indoor and outdoor gyms, and playgrounds from 10 July; a return to competitive sporting events without spectators, both at grassroots and professional level, which extends to include horse racing and equestrian competitions, from 11 July; the reopening of libraries from 16 July; the reopening of indoor leisure centres or facilities but not swimming pools from 17 July; and the resumption of indoor wedding, baptism and civil partnership ceremonies, with numbers to be determined by the venue on a risk-assessed basis. The Executive also agreed that the wearing of face coverings on public transport would become mandatory from 10 July, except for people for whom an exemption applies.

Those changes were given effect in the amendment (No. 11) regulations, which were made on 9 July. Members will have an opportunity to debate those measures in due course. We are now at an important point in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are beginning to look beyond the response phase towards the actions that will be needed to secure a robust and sustainable recovery, to rebuild public services and for us to seek to restore more normal ways of living.

Is é dúshlán atá romhainn anois ná teacht ar na bealaí agus na modhanna chun é sin a bhaint amach le go mbeadh muid ábalta ruaig eile den aicíd mharfach seo a bhainistiú más gá. The challenge facing us now is to find the ways and means to achieve that whilst managing the risk of a second wave of this deadly virus, were that to transpire. The Executive will therefore be monitoring the impact of all the relaxations very carefully. We are prepared to reintroduce restrictions if that is considered necessary in order to control the virus, but our focus needs to be on ensuring that that does not happen. Vigilance and caution will continue to be essential as we move through the coming weeks. All the practical advice continues to apply. Fanaigí ar shiúl ó chéile. Nígí bhur lámha. Keep your distance, and wash your hands well and often. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, molaim an rún agus na rialacha don Tionól. I commend the regulations to the Assembly.