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Coronavirus lockdown easing: Families to be allowed to meet indoors

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Up to six members of a family are to be allowed to meet indoors for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions came into force.

The move is due to be confirmed by the executive later.

It is understood ministers will also discuss funding for childcare and school dinners.

With just a week to go before parking and bus lane fines are reintroduced, motorists who break the rules will be issued with “warnings” from Monday.

On-street parking charges and bus lane enforcement were suspended on 24 March as part of the coronavirus lockdown.

But enforcement teams are back on the streets from 22 June to prepare for the return of charges and fines on 29 June.

Image caption

Parking attendants return to the streets from Monday after the coronavirus lockdown

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said it is part of the economic recovery plan to support businesses.

By Enda McClafferty, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

It was to be part of phase one of Stormont’s recovery plan but medical and scientific advice warned against allowing relatives to meet indoors because of concerns around social distancing.

But the move will get the green light from ministers today.

As is already the case in the Republic – up to six members of a family will be allowed to gather indoors at any one time – as long as they take the necessary precautions.

Also on the agenda today will be providing extra funding for childcare and finding the cash to provide food over the summer holiday for the 97,000 children entitled to free school dinners.

The executive has already agreed to the move which it is thought will cost an extra £12m

  • Hairdressers can reopen in NI from 6 July
  • NI’s hotels and bars can reopen from 3 July

Under current lockdown rules, people in Northern Ireland are allowed to gather outside in groups of 10 or fewer.

But visiting people indoors in their own homes is only permitted for adults who live alone, who can form a “support bubble” with one other household.

Analysis: BBC News NI political correspondent Enda McClafferty

Probably the only thing you won’t be able to get as of next Monday in the Republic of Ireland is a wedding with 100 people.

Almost everything is getting the green light on 29th June.

Nightclubs, discos and casinos are basically the only thing not getting the go-ahead.

So will the Northern Ireland Executive follow?

There is going to be pressure today on the executive, not the least when it comes to allowing people to meet family indoors, wider than the single bubble unit currently allowed.

Last Friday, we had a strong hint that this was coming down the track and today we are expecting the executive to go ahead with that.

As for the rest of the measures, you can see them fall into place.

When Boris Johnson moves from two metres to one metre, the executive may well follow suit in due course, maybe not today but we may well hear more of that before the end of the week.

Image caption

Fines for driving in bus lanes will be reintroduced next week

The move on parking enforcement was announced last week by Ms Mallon.

‘Irresponsible parking’

In a statement, she acknowledged that the return of parking charges and bus lane fines “may not be popular for some” but added that she had to consider the needs of all road users.

“I recognise the need to give people time to prepare and to make them aware of this change, which is why I have built in a seven-day warning period ahead of the reintroduction of parking charges,” Ms Mallon said.

“As shops reopen, we are seeing an increase in irresponsible parking and I would urge car users to park responsibly at all times and play their part as we all move towards returning to the new normal.”

Image caption

Pay and display machines are to be disinfected before charges return on 29 June

Before on-street parking charges return next week, Ms Mallon said all pay and display parking machine key pads “will be cleaned and disinfected prior to the restart”.

She advised drivers to carry hand sanitiser and encouraged them to consider using cashless payment methods.

The return of parking fines and traffic penalties will be an unwelcome development for many motorists but they are just some of the changes on the way as lockdown is gradually eased.

Places of worship, which are currently only open for private prayer, have been told they can provisionally reopen on a wider basis from 29 June and preparations are under way to restart public church services.

Northern Ireland’s hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen from 3 July, while hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons will be able to reopen on 6 July.

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