Covid-19 regulations in Northern Ireland were not due to expire until March 24 (Picture: AFP)
Northern Ireland has become the first nation in the UK to scrap all Covid restrictions, replacing them with guidance only from today.
The change means people will no longer be required by law to wear face coverings in public places or show proof of vaccination to get into nightclubs.
Robin Swann, Northern Ireland’s health minister, confirmed the change yesterday and will make an order officially revoking the remaining rules today.
It comes following advice from the nation’s chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride.
However Mr Swann – who tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday – has urged the public not to ‘jump the gun’ and warned the pandemic is not over.
He was advised last week on the potential legal complications of replacing Covid-19 regulations with guidance, without the wider endorsement of an executive and wrote to other ministers asking for their input.
Coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland were not due to expire until March 24, but had been reviewed by the executive every three weeks.
But the nation currently has no functioning executive after the DUP removed Paul Givan as first minister, as part of a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The nation’s health minister Robin Swann has warned people to remain cautious (Picture: PA)
Mr Swann, who is working from home, had been considering whether removing restrictions would cut across the responsibilities of any other ministers.
In a statement on Monday, he said: ‘Today’s announcement follows consideration of legal advice from the attorney general and consultation with all ministerial colleagues.
‘It moves our response against Covid into a new phase. With the reduced threat from the Omicron variant, we can move away from an emergency and legalistic framework to a new approach where making safer choices is embedded in our daily lives.
‘That means all of us continuing to do our best to cut down risks of infection and transmission. It means looking after each other by following the public health guidance.
‘It must always be remembered that taking unnecessary risks with Covid may affect people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
‘So please do not jump the gun and start behaving as if the pandemic is over. That is not the case.’
People will no longer have to show Covid-19 passes to get into nightclubs in Northern Ireland from today (Picture: Getty Images)
Mr Swann said while the Omicron variant was less severe than previous strains, ‘community transmission remains very high and hospital pressures significant’.
He said although legal restrictions were being dropped he would keep the current situation under review, but ’emergency restrictions’ could not be maintained ‘indefinitely’.
‘A large part of what we currently do to protect ourselves is already covered by guidance rather than regulations,’ he said.
‘This includes self-isolating when infected and taking lateral flow tests before meeting up with others.
‘The guidance will continue to emphasise all the steps that we should keep taking to protect each other.
‘I will, of course, keep the situation on regulations under ongoing and detailed review.
‘We cannot rule out a new variant emerging down the line with new interventions being required. I very much hope that will not be the case.’
It’s the end of legal restrictions in Northern Ireland (Picture: AFP)
Mr Swann said he had been advised by health officials that the decision to ease restrictions would likely not create a major rise in the number of people in intensive care.
In a letter to Executive ministers yesterday, Mr Swann warned he will not be able to re-introduce restrictions unilaterally if the Covid-19 situation worsens.
Last week Boris Johnson revealed he also plans to lift England’s remaining restrictions a month early, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.
The Government had originally set a target of ending all restrictions by March 24, but Mr Johnson said he would present a ‘Living With Covid’ strategy when the Commons returns from its recess next week.
Expanding on the plan the prime minister said the restrictions would be lifted ‘providing the current encouraging trends in the data continue’. Free PCR tests may also be scrapped.
But No 10 scientists later said they had not been consulted on the decision.
Professor John Edmunds, an influential member of Sage, later warned the plan to scrap the legal requirement to self-isolation could lead to a spike in infections.
Mr Edmunds is not the only scientist to warn dropping the legal requirement to self-isolate is a risky move.
Experts have said the move to accelerate lifting restrictions is not based on science, and puts vulnerable people in society at risk.
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