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Coronavirus: Diane Dodds to urge executive to reduce 2m rule


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Coronavirus: Diane Dodds to urge executive to reduce 2m rule

Image caption Economy Minister Diane Dodds has made no secret of advocating for the 2m rule to be reduced Stormont’s economy minister will urge the relaxation of the 2m (6ft) social distancing rule in NI when the executive meets later on Thursday.It comes days after the prime minister said England would move to “1m plus”…

Coronavirus: Diane Dodds to urge executive to reduce 2m rule

Diane Dodds

Image caption

Economy Minister Diane Dodds has made no secret of advocating for the 2m rule to be reduced

Stormont’s economy minister will urge the relaxation of the 2m (6ft) social distancing rule in NI when the executive meets later on Thursday.

It comes days after the prime minister said England would move to “1m plus” from 4 July, as its lockdown is eased.

Diane Dodds argues that a reduction would make it more viable for businesses in NI to operate.

Hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes in NI are due to reopen from 3 July.

Some tourism and hospitality leaders have called on the executive to reduce the 2m rule so they can manage more capacity in their establishments.

Mrs Dodds has repeatedly said she wants to see the distance reduced to 1m (3ft) as long as it is safe to do so, in order to sustain many of those businesses, as they begin to reopen their doors.

But other executive ministers have expressed caution and say the scientific advice shows it is still too risky to move to 1m.

Hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes have already been advised to reconfigure seating, stagger arrivals and encourage use of outdoor areas.

On Tuesday, First Minister Arlene Foster said she had spoken to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove about England’s decision to relax social distancing, with some conditions.

She said reducing the distance to 1m would be “transformational” for many sectors of the economy.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill previously said the executive needed to be guided by scientific advice, and that as soon as it could move to ease more restrictions, it would.

Is a distance of 1m safe?

The World Health Organization recommends keeping a distance of at least 1m.

Some countries have adopted this guidance, often because they also insist on people wearing masks.

But it is not just about distance, but also timing.

The longer you spend in close proximity with an infected person, the bigger the risk.

Scientists advising the UK government say spending six seconds at a distance of 1m from someone is the same as spending one minute at a distance of 2m.

Mrs Foster has previously said that was a key concern for the executive as Stormont ministers debated whether to relax the current guidance around distancing.

What else are ministers likely to discuss?

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon will ask the executive on Thursday to make the wearing of face coverings compulsory on all public transport.

Ministers will be asked to approve a paper setting out how the measure will be introduced and enforced.

At present, the executive recommends they are worn in shops and on public transport, where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

In England and Scotland, it is now mandatory to wear them on public transport.

In the Republic of Ireland, Transport Minister Shane Ross is to bring a memo to cabinet on Thursday that would make it compulsory to wear a face covering on all forms of public transport, according to broadcaster RTÉ.

The executive has discussed the issue a number of times, but is not clear when ministers will come to a decision on wider use.

Ministers are also likely to sign off on previously announced plans for places of worship in Northern Ireland to provisionally reopen on a wider basis on 29 June.

It is set to be confirmed on Thursday, subject to the spread of the virus remaining low.

Discussions have been taking place about how weddings and funeral services can be conducted, as well as capacity issues and singing.

NI’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride held talks with church and faith leaders on Wednesday.

It is also expected there will be a discussion about free school meals which the executive has promised to support over the summer months.

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