By James Ward, PA
A planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland has been pushed back to July 5th amid concerns over the Delta variant.
The Executive Office said the speed at which the variant, first identified in India, is spreading across the community is “very worrying”.
Measures including a return of live music and removing the limits on numbers at outdoor gatherings were planned to be introduced on Monday.
However, they have now been pushed back until July 5th, with a review of the situation to take place on July 1st.
“This increase in the Delta variant, and the speed at which it is spreading across the community, is very worrying,” a statement from the Executive Office said.
“Evidence from other jurisdictions, where the variant is already dominant, also gives us cause for significant concern.
“In light of this, the clear advice from our medical and scientific experts is to delay any further relaxations to allow further monitoring of the situation.
“We are therefore regrettably not in a position to ratify the indicative dates provided for future relaxations.
“We will continue to monitor the situation very closely and look at all emerging data. The Executive has agreed a new indicative date of July 5th, to be reviewed on July 1st.”
The statement acknowledged the disappointment the decision will cause, in particular across the arts and culture sectors.
“We did not take this decision lightly and are acting collectively in the best interests of our population,” it said.
“This is similar to decisions that have been taken in England and Scotland to delay further relaxations to restrictions given concerns around the Delta variant.”
People have been urged to come forward for their vaccines while employers have been urged to facilitate workers in getting their jabs.
“If we all work together, we will get to a point where we can continue on our pathway out of restrictions,” the statement said.
Under the revised plans, from July 5th, live music will be permitted in licensed and unlicensed premises which sell food and drink, but only at “background or ambient levels”, with no dancing permitted.
Larger indoor venues will not have to abide by noise limitations.
At outdoor events, live music and dancing will be allowed, without restriction to background or ambient levels.
Entry to performances for audiences will be by ticket only.
Tickets must be purchased in advance of the performance. Audiences for indoor events must have allocated seating and must remain seated, unless using facilities.
Social distancing at a minimum of one metre will be required for live music related activity in indoor seated venues and will be advised for all outdoor events.
Concert halls and seated theatres will also reopen on July 5th, with tickets to be purchased in advance, allocated seating and social distancing of one metre required.
Indoor gatherings in homes will be permitted for a maximum of 10 people from no more than two households.
If a single household has 10 members, the maximum is increased to 15 people from no more than two households. The figure does not include children under 12.
Overnight residentials for youth services and uniformed organisations will also return on July 5th, as part of the phased reopening of youth services.
There were no deaths linked to Covid-19 reported in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours and an additional 179 confirmed cases, the Department of Health said on Thursday.
To date, 1,911,239 vaccines have been administered in total.