Theatres and concert halls in Northern Ireland are to be allowed to reopen to indoor audiences as part of the latest relaxations to Covid-19 rules.

Live music will be permitted for rehearsals and performances, with no restriction on background or ambient volume levels.

Entry will be by ticket only and tickets must be purchased in advance of performances.

Audiences must have allocated seating and remain seated. Social distancing of one metre is required.

The changes are due to come into legal effect at 6pm tomorrow.

Stormont ministers have also raised the number limit for gatherings in indoor domestic settings from six to 10 people, from no more than three households.

If one household has 10 members, the maximum is increased to 15 from no more than three households.

Wearing face coverings inside places of worship is also set to be changed from a mandatory requirement to guidance.

Masks will still be legally required when entering and exiting the building and will be strongly advised while singing or moving around the building.

In MOT centres, the vehicle can be shared by the examiner and customer for five minutes with both wearing a face covering.

The decisions were taken during a virtual Stormont Executive meeting this afternoon.

Two relaxations agreed by ministers last week came into force today.

A cap limiting the number of households allowed to participate in 15-person outdoor domestic gatherings was removed and close contact services, such as hairdressers, were able to accept walk-in customers.

The latest decisions, delayed from last week, were made after ministers were presented with more data on the link between positive cases and hospital admissions.


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They will convene again on Thursday to consider relaxations considered "higher risk".

These include the resumption of conferences and exhibitions and a proposal to end social distancing requirements for outdoor activities and reduce the distance to one metre for indoor settings.

At today's executive meeting, ministers also discussed Northern Ireland's waiting list crisis.

It has the worst waiting list times in the UK.

There are currently more than 335,000 waiting for 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 Northern Ireland.

Those pressures have been exacerbated by increased numbers of Covid-19 admissions, and two health trusts, Belfast and South Eastern, issued an emergency call for off-duty staff to come in to help deal with the worsening situation in hospitals.

Extra intensive care beds have also been opened in Belfast.

A further 639 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland today, according to the Department of Health.

No further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for the virus have been notified.

There were 208 Covid-19 positive patients in hospital this morning, with 25 of them in intensive care.

In total, 2,208,466 vaccines have been administered in Northern Ireland.