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People chatting on Arthur Street in the shopping district of Belfast City Centre Liam McBurney/PA Images

Public warned against 'festive free-for-all' as restrictions ease in Northern Ireland after two-week circuit break

Like the rest of Ireland, however, wet pubs in Northern Ireland must remain shut.

MINISTERS IN THE North have warned against a “festive free-for-all” as non-essential retail and parts of the hospitality sector can re-open today after a two-week circuit breaker lockdown. 

Shops, restaurants , cafes and pubs that serve food are reopening after two weeks of strict measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Pubs that do not serve food will remain closed.

Cinemas, museums, galleries and gyms will reopen and normal church services can resume, with more people allowed to attend weddings and funerals.

Hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons can open with visits by appointment only. 

Up to 500 spectators will be permitted to attend outdoor sporting events. 

However, households cannot mix indoors with only a few exemptions. 

Case numbers in Northern Ireland have remained high in recent weeks, with 441 new cases reported yesterday along with 14 further deaths. 

Ministers said the circuit breaker didn’t achieve as much as had been hoped and indicated the restrictions will partially ease again on 23 December over the Christmas period. 

First Minister Arlene Foster said last night the fact the reproduction rate of the virus (R) had dropped to “around 1” had given the Executive the “headroom” to proceed with the reopenings.

“Safety is paramount,” she said.

“The easing of the restrictions does not mean that there’s any easing of the need for each person to follow the public health guidelines.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the decision to lift some of the relaxations reflected the need to balance public health and economic concerns.

“The decision to lift some of the restrictions, and obviously it’s not all restrictions, is as a result of the conversation at the Executive and it’s supported by obviously the public health team,” she said.

“But as with all these things the whole way through the pandemic we’ve always tried to get a balance between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods.

“And we know how challenging this is for many people who’ve lost their jobs, many families that are struggling to put food on the table as a direct result of not having an income coming in.

“And we know this is a very difficult situation for many people, so we’re always trying to find that balanced way forward.”

Earlier this week, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was rolled-out in Northern Ireland. It is not expected to be approved for use in Ireland until the end of this month.

With reporting from PA

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