By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Michelle O’Neill has said she hopes the Northern Ireland Executive will be able to approve the easing of further Covid restrictions in the region this week.
The Deputy First Minister told MLAs that this could include the reopening of youth services and live music, but said decisions would be informed by medical and scientific advice.
During ministerial question time at the Assembly, Ms O’Neill said that some easements of restrictions had had to be delayed because of concerns over the spread of the Delta Covid variant in the North.
Last week, the region's Public Health Agency disclosed there were 612 confirmed or probable cases of the Delta variant detected in all 11 council areas in the North.
About half of Covid-19 positive cases sampled in Northern Ireland are now indicative of the Delta variant.
The variant was first identified in India, and is now dominant in the UK.
At the Assembly on Monday, DUP MLA Peter Weir asked the Deputy First Minister about the possibility of priority being given to youth services in further relaxations.
Ms O’Neill said: “Despite the fact that we had a delay to reopening of youth services because of the emerging data that we are all very conscious and worried about in terms of the Delta variant, that meant that we entered into a delay phase, but this Thursday we will be able to revisit that issue.
“It will include also the issue of live music, residential services, the opening of theatres and indoor seated venues, the resumption of conferences and exhibitions and allowing walk-ins with close contact businesses.
“Alongside all that work, officials are also working towards next week’s Executive and what potentially we may be bringing forward there also, all the while informed by the medical and scientific advice.
“We will continue to keep it under review, but all things being equal we would hope to be able to progress these things on Thursday, provided that it is supported by health and science.”
Later, DUP Economy Minister Paul Frew was asked about the impact of Covid on the tourism and travel industries.
He said: “We could well be in for a critical couple of months, coming into the winter and it is important that all restrictions that can be lifted, are lifted, to ensure that markets can activate and work as they should without any government interference.
“I think that’s vitally important going forward, and I will be pushing for support in that regard, that they will be allowed to get on with their business safely and productively and we’ll hopefully get the economy up and running again sooner, rather than later.”
Meanwhile, there have been an additional 211 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
No further deaths have been reported in the past 24 hours. Sixteen patients are in hospital and two are in intensive care.
The latest vaccination figures show 2,010,028 jabs have been administered in the region in total.