Stormont ministers will meet later to consider further Covid-19 relaxations for Northern Ireland and discuss ways to tackle the region’s spiralling health waiting lists.
The virtual executive meeting will re-examine a number of decisions that were postponed last week amid concerns about rising infection numbers.
These “moderate” risk moves include allowing theatres and concert halls to welcome back audiences and increasing the limit on gatherings in indoor domestic settings from six to 10, from no more than three households.
Ministers will also consider whether to lift current restrictions on MoT test centres.
An easing of the requirement for face coverings in places of worship is also set to be discussed, with the potential this will be relaxed so people will only have to wear them entering and exiting the buildings.
The decisions will be taken during at an executive meeting that was already scheduled to discuss Northern Ireland’s waiting list crisis.
The region has the worst waiting list times in the UK.
There are currently more than 335,000 waiting on a first consultant-led appointment, with some facing waits of up to seven years for treatment.
The waiting lists have led to increased pressures on emergency departments across the region, as patients attempt to seek treatment via A&Es.
Those pressures have been exacerbated by increased numbers of Covid-19 admissions and on Sunday two health trusts, the Belfast and South Eastern, issued an emergency call out for off-duty staff to come in to help deal with the worsening situation inside hospitals.
This is not an ask that a Trust makes easily of its staff, but unfortunately it is necessary as we continue to maintain the services that are expected.
My enduring thanks to all our health staff who do so much for all of us.
Play your part, follow the regs & get your vaccine. https://t.co/mYDzLkwQrG
— Robin Swann MLA #StopCovidNI (@RobinSwannMoH) July 25, 2021
Two further relaxations of Covid-19 rules were agreed by ministers last week and those come into effect on Monday.
A cap limiting the number of households allowed to participate in 15-person outdoor domestic gatherings has been removed and close contact services, such as hairdressers, are now able to accept walk-in customers.
Moves considered moderate and higher risk were delayed last week pending an update from health officials on the latest wave of Covid-19.
Ministers were due to be presented with more data on the link between positive cases and hospital admissions before reconvening to reconsider those decisions.
While the moderate steps will be considered during Monday afternoon’s meeting, ministers will convene again on Thursday to consider the higher risk relaxations.
These include lifting restrictions on indoor live music, including a proposal to end a requirement for the sound to be kept to an ambient level.
The resumption of conferences and exhibitions will also be considered on Thursday, as will a proposal to end social distancing requirements for outdoor activities and reduce the distance to one metre for indoor settings.