Ministers locked in discussions on relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions

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Stormont executive ministers are locked in discussions over whether to relax coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Ministers in the powersharing executive initially adjourned their meeting on Monday morning to seek further data on the likely impact of easing some restrictions.

They reconvened in the early evening for further talks. Exchanges then broke up again ahead of another scheduled round of discussions later on Monday night.

A four-week circuit-break lockdown that has forced the closure of much of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is due to end at midnight on Thursday.

With hospitals still under sustained pressure dealing with Covid-19 admissions, ministers are set to extend some restrictions for a further two weeks, but they are considering relaxing other measures.

One of options understood to have been under consideration would be allowing cafes and restaurants to reopen, but without alcohol being sold.

There are doubts whether ministers will press ahead with this option, as it understood discussions on Monday evening acknowledged concerns from the hospitality sector.

Restaurant owners have insisted the inability to sell alcohol would make trading unviable.

Leading Belfast restaurateur Michael Deane called the proposal “crazy”.

Michael Deane
Michael Deane (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ministers may retain some restrictions, such as the closure of pubs that do not sell food, and relax others.

They are also assessing whether close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, could be allowed to resume as long as strict restrictions are observed.

On Monday morning ministers requested further analysis on these proposals, and it is understood chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young worked to pull together evidence.

Ministers reconvened late on Monday to consider the information.

It may be Tuesday morning until any moves are formally announced.

That would come in the form of a statement in the Assembly chamber by Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

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