Northern Ireland chief science advisor warns 'this isn't Freedom Day' as Covid restrictions drop

The lifting of Covid-19 legal restrictions in Northern Ireland should not be viewed as "freedom day", Stormont's chief scientific adviser has said.

Professor Ian Young urged people to continue to wear face masks in certain public settings, even though it will no longer be a legal requirement.

The requirement for people to wear face coverings in settings such as shops and on public transport ended at 5pm on Tuesday, while Covid certificates will no longer be needed to gain entry to nightclubs and large indoor unseated events.

Businesses will also no longer be required to undertake coronavirus-linked risk assessments or collect track and trace information from customers.

While the curbs are being removed from law, they are remaining as guidance. Self-isolation guidance upon infection is not changing and neither is the Executive's "work from home where possible" message.

Professor Young said: "When something changes from regulation to guidance it doesn't mean that our behaviours need to change, or indeed that they should change.”

“I would absolutely not use the term 'freedom day'. This is not freedom day…I think we absolutely welcome the fact that ministers have decided to remove restrictions. But that does not mean that the epidemic is over."

Hospitality business owners have hailed the easing of regulations and have expressed hope that trade will now return to normal.

Stephen Magorrian, managing director of the Horatio Group, said: "It is to be welcomed, it is the beginning of the end."

"But we are conscious of the fact that the pandemic hasn't ended, so we still need to be cautious but it is good to see the start of the end. The rebuilding of confidence will be the main thing. We need to make sure that our customers still feel safe."

Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he wanted to get to a position where there was no need for any Covid-19 guidance.

"We look forward to a time that we can remove all restrictions, and all guidance becomes a thing of the past," he said on Tuesday.

"But the pandemic is still going on, there are still people dying, there's still people contracting the virus. And so there has to be a degree of caution in relation to that."