Live music to return in NI on 21 June amid other easements

Northern Ireland will take further significant steps out of lockdown on 21 June, if plans to ease more coronavirus restrictions are ratified on 17 June – including the return of live music.

The NI Executive met on Thursday, for what was Arlene Foster’s last such meeting as First Minister, to discuss the next steps in terms of the lifting of restrictions.

While the decision has been made to go ahead with a number of easements, it has been noted that it will be important to monitor the situation around the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“While we have come a long way, the public health situation remains fragile, with the Delta variant being a cause for significant concern,” a statement said.

“It will be important to monitor the progression of this, and other variants, very closely and examine the emerging data on the impacts of previous relaxations on the course of the epidemic.

“In light of these uncertainties, at this point we are in a position to give indicative dates for future relaxations, which will be subject to ratification by the Executive before they are confirmed.”

Earlier, an Executive paper from Health Minister Robin Swann outlined to colleagues "grounds for concern" around the Delta variant and stated that Northern Ireland cannot yet plan to end social distancing and the wearing of masks.“Normality, as we knew it in 2019, is still some way off,” he said.

In order to try to combat the Delta virus and ensure people in Northern Ireland have as much protection as possible, the time between receiving first and second doses of coronavirus vaccines is to be reduced from roughly three months to eight weeks.

The Department of Health says those with pre-existing appointments for second doses should keep their arrangements in place.

Those who have not yet received their first dose will be given dates for their second in line with the new timeframe when they do get their first jab.

Easements from 21 June

  • Indoor gatherings at home to allow for 10 people from no more than two households, or 15 people if one household already as 10 members (does not include children under 12)

  • Outdoor gatherings at home of 15 people from an unlimited number of households (does not include children 12 and under)

  • Removal of linked households/bubble provision

  • No limit on numbers for outdoor gatherings at venues, except as required by a risk assessment – anything over 30 people counts as an organised gathering and needs a risk assessment

  • Close contact services to open without appointments, but with remaining mitigations

Close contact services like hairdressers will be open for walk-in customers without appointments under new easements. Credit: PA

Live music

  • Allowed in licensed and unlicensed eateries at background or ambient levels, but people must be able to hold conversations over it at normal levels and no dancing is allowed

  • Allowed without restriction to background or ambient level for other larger indoor venues like functions rooms or hotels, but access to the venue must be properly controlled and no dancing will be allowed for audiences

  • Live music without restriction to background or ambient level and dancing will be allowed at outdoor events and in concert venues, theatres and other indoor venues for performance purposes or rehearsals or recordings – dancing will not be allowed for indoor audiences though

  • Entry to performances for audiences will be by ticket only and tickets must be purchased in advance - audiences for indoor events must have allocated seating, must remain seated (unless using facilities), and one metre social distancing will be required at indoor events and recommended outdoors

The return of live music has been long-awaited. Credit: PA

Easements from 1 July (subject to being ratified on 17 June)

  • Restart of overnight residentials for youth services as part of the continued phased reopening of youth services to facilitate delivery of the summer youth programme

Easements from 22 July (subject to being ratified on 15 July)

  • Removal of any restrictions on live music and dancing in licensed and unlicensed eateries

Meanwhile, the Europa Hotel in Belfast says it has been forced to cancel gigs by Sir Van Morrison because they did not comply with Covid-19 regulations.

Tickets for the four-night run of Van Morrison concerts had already been sold before Stormont ministers agreed on the indicative date of 21 June for live music to resume, subject to ratification.

The announcement that the singer-songwriter would not be performing was made only hours before he was due to go on stage.