People living alone reunited with families in NI

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People living alone will be reunited with their families on Saturday after three months of coronavirus lockdown in Northern Ireland.

They will be able to meet with one other household to combat loneliness caused by the restrictions, First Minister Arlene Foster said.

It means an isolated grandparent will be able to see grandchildren again, or partners separated by the pandemic since March can meet up.

There is no social distancing restriction attached, so a grandparent will be able to hug family members once again.

Shoppers in Belfast after shopping centres and retailers were given the green light to reopen
Shoppers in Belfast after shopping centres and retailers were given the green light to reopen (Brian Lawless/PA)

The measure was one of a raft of rule changes after Stormont ministers met on Thursday.

It followed mounting pressure from people anxious to see their loved ones and a decline in the number of daily deaths from Covid-19 and the rate of spread of the disease.

The number who can meet outside while practising distancing to limit the risk of transmission was increased from six to 10.

All non-essential shops and shopping centres were able to reopen on Friday as Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to make the move.

The majority of shops in the Irish Republic are already back trading.

In Belfast, footfall was still considerably down on pre-pandemic levels on Friday morning, with bad weather likely putting off some people from heading back to the city centre.

Those customers who did venture out were met with a range of new hygiene and social distancing measures, inside and outside outlets.

There were queuing systems in place, screens at tills and several shop workers wore masks.

Shops pulled up their shutters as latest statistics showed the coronavirus death rate in Northern Ireland has fallen for a sixth week in a row.

There was one more Covid-19 death reported on Friday – only the second reported in the region by the Department of Health this week.

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