By David Young, PA
Theatres and concert halls are to be allowed to reopen in Northern Ireland as part of the latest relaxations to Covid-19 rules.
Stormont ministers have also raised the number limit for gatherings in indoor domestic settings from six to 10 people, from no more than three households.
Wearing face coverings inside places of worship is also set to be changed from a mandatory requirement to guidance, while restrictions on how MOT vehicle tests are conducted are to be eased.
The steps are due to come into legal effect at 6pm on Tuesday.
It is understood theatre and concert hall performances in Northern Ireland will have to be ticket-only events, with tickets purchased in advance.
Indoor audiences must have allocated seats and must remain seated throughout performances, with social distancing of one metre.
Live music will also be permitted in theatres and concert halls and other venues, with no restrictions on volume.
The wearing of face coverings during acts of worship will change from regulation to guidance in Northern Ireland, but it will still be a legal requirement to wear them when entering and exiting the building.
Ministers will also strongly advise their use when singing or when moving around during services.
The decisions were taken during a virtual executive meeting on Monday afternoon. Two relaxations agreed by ministers last week came into force on Monday.
A cap limiting the number of households allowed to participate in 15-person outdoor domestic gatherings was removed and close contact services, such as hairdressers, were able to accept walk-in customers.
The latest decisions, delayed from last week, were made after ministers were presented with more data on the link between positive cases and hospital admissions.
'Higher risk' decisions
Ministers will convene again on Thursday to consider relaxations considered “higher risk”.
Those include the resumption of conferences and exhibitions and a proposal to end social distancing requirements for outdoor activities and reduce the distance to one metre for indoor settings.
At Monday’s executive, ministers also discussed Northern Ireland’s waiting list crisis.
The region has the worst waiting list times in the UK. There are currently more than 335,000 waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, with some facing waits of up to seven years for treatment.
The waiting lists have led to increased pressures on emergency departments across the region.
Those pressures have been exacerbated by increased numbers of Covid-19 admissions, and on Sunday two health trusts, Belfast and South Eastern, issued an emergency call for off-duty staff to come in to help deal with the worsening situation in hospitals.
A further 639 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland on Monday. There were no new deaths notified by the Department of Health.