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progress Northern Ireland Executive announces relaxation of some Covid-19 restrictions

They include ending the legal requirement for Covid certification to enter some hospitality venues and the reopening of nightclubs

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First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill after chairing a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive in Ebrington, Londonderry (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill after chairing a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive in Ebrington, Londonderry (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill after chairing a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive in Ebrington, Londonderry (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

The dropping of a requirement for Covid certification to enter some hospitality venues and the reopening of nightclubs in Northern Ireland have been agreed by the Stormont Executive.

From Friday, the requirement to remain seated and the limit of six per table at hospitality venues will be removed.

The cap on the number of households meeting inside domestic settings will be removed from the same date.

The requirement to provide proof of exemption from wearing face coverings will also be removed from Friday, and the guidance on working from home will revert to working from home where you can.

The Executive also agreed that nightclubs will be permitted to open from noon on Wednesday January 26.

From the same date, dancing and indoor standing events can resume, and in workplaces the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for two-metre social distancing will also be removed.

The legal requirement for Covid certification will continue in nightclubs and indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 or more.

For other settings the certification will no longer be required but its use encouraged.

Remaining Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland will be reviewed by the Stormont Executive on February 10.

These include the legal duty on retail to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission, the legal requirement to wear face coverings and the legal requirement for risk assessments in prescribed settings.

Laws requiring people to prove Covid status to gain entry to a range of hospitality venues and large-attendance events were introduced last November.

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The move proved politically contentious, with First Minister Paul Givan's DUP party voting against the scheme while the other four Stormont Executive parties backed it.

Nightclubs have been closed in Northern Ireland since December 26 as part of a series of restrictions agreed on December 22 in response to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Ministers also imposed fresh measures on the rest of the hospitality sector, including table service and a ban on dancing.

The agreed relaxations are expected to be part of a phased approach to the lifting of remaining Covid restrictions in the region.

Mr Givan announced on Wednesday that the self-isolation period will be cut from seven to five days on January 21.

Mr Givan said he hoped the Executive would make decisions around easing hospitality restrictions when it met on Thursday.

Speaking during a visit to Derry, he said: "We are understanding where Omicron is in our community, in terms of pressures it is creating in our health service and we have a much more positive picture now which gives us the room to take decisions today.

"I am hopeful we will be able to make changes to hospitality, to nightclubs in terms of the prohibition on dancing.

"I believe that later today we will have made significant progress in a number of areas."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said that while the pandemic was not over, she believed Northern Ireland had passed the peak of Omicron.

She said: "The pandemic is far from over but we are cautiously optimistic.

"We believe we are through the peak and we believe we have some space now to be able to reverse the protections that we put in place over the course of the last number of weeks.

"It is a positive picture but I would ask people not to be complacent yet, we still have a journey to travel.

"I do think after our Executive meeting we hope we will be able to say positive things that will be welcomed by both individuals and also by the hospitality sector."

The deaths of a further two people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 and another 3,879 cases of the virus were notified by the Department of Health on Thursday.

On Thursday there were 402 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 24 in intensive care.

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