Coronavirus: Northern Ireland axes social distancing in bars and restaurants and allows nightclubs to reopen

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Social distancing in bars and restaurants in Northern Ireland will be scrapped and nightclubs reopen.

The one-metre rule will be removed for the hospitality sector from 31 October - the same day clubs will be allowed to welcome back customers.

Event organisers and venues will be asked to voluntarily introduce entry systems where punters must prove they are fully vaccinated or have a negative lateral flow test, or provide evidence of a COVID infection within the past six months.

Stormont ministers gathered on Thursday to consider the remaining coronavirus rules in Northern Ireland.

They have agreed to relax other measures including axing the cap on the number of people who can meet in indoor domestic settings.

It will see the current limit of 15 people from a maximum of four households removed on 14 October.

Meanwhile, audience members no longer need to be seated while watching indoor performances, also from the same date.

More restrictions impacting the hospitality industry will be reviewed by 31 October, in a bid to give officials time to engage with the sector.

But people will still be required to wear face masks in some "limited" areas as part of "low level mitigation measures".

First Minister Paul Givan said: "I'm pleased that by the end of October we will have had restrictions on a wide range of issues completed at that point.

"The deputy first minister and I met with hospitality representatives this morning and we are very much wanting to have a partnership with them and that is why we are able to move forward with the social distancing being relaxed because of their commitments to us."

But Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill warned it was wise to continue being cautious and prudent.

And ministers have not ruled out implementing measures including vaccine passports and a return to social distancing.

"There are measures which we don't want to be in a place to introduce but we have to be ready for that just in case we get to that point," Ms O'Neill added.

"We're going to do everything we can to avoid getting to that point," she added.

Indoor seated venues which have introduced vaccine / test proof entry requirements recently have seen a 99% compliance rate, it is understood.

But the announcement comes after leading industry voices claimed vaccine passports for nightclubs are flawed and will lead to "financial disaster".

People in Wales must show a COVID-19 vaccine passport or negative test to visit nightclubs and events from 11 October, the Welsh government announced, in a bid to reduce the spread of the virus as infection rates reach "high levels" in the country.

Meanwhile, Scotland introduced a vaccine passport app last Friday, 1 October - but it was hit by a technical glitch just hours after launching.

England has yet to introduce a scheme, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the government wants to avoid vaccine passports "if we possibly can" - but refused to rule them out.

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