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Ladies and gentlemen, over the last few weeks, the Executive has been able to roll back some of the restrictions that were imposed in March during the Coronavirus lockdown.

We’ve been able to do that because the rate of transmission for Covid-19, the R rate, has been driven down and the number of new cases is now very small

This has happened because the vast majority of you stuck closely to the public health advice on how to keep yourselves and others safe from Covid-19.

And that in turn has suppressed the spread of this lethal virus in the wider community.

The Health Minister has advised that updated letters are issuing from today to those shielding.

This will confirm individuals are to pause shielding as of 31 July given the current low levels of virus transmission.

The Executive has today reached another milestone in our journey towards a new normal.

The ability for outdoor visits from families and friends has been a positive step forward, however we have been determined to see progress on indoor visits too.

This afternoon, the Executive has agreed that groups of up to six people, not from the same household, will be able to meet indoors from tomorrow.

It is recommended that social distancing should still be maintained along with other mitigations such as ventilation and good hand hygiene.

The Executive has wanted to promote family friendly arrangements, and this will also be of assistance in relation to informal childcare.

This was the one relaxation remaining outstanding from the initial stage of our recovery plan.

I know many of you have been desperate in recent weeks to visit your family and friends inside their homes and you’ll welcome this announcement.

Thank you for your patience.

Those who had to celebrate Fathers’ Day remotely for example will once again be able to see Dad face to face.

However as positive as this step is, all of us on the Executive cannot stress enough that the battle against Covid-19 is still very much ongoing, and we all need to remain vigilant.

Over the last three months, we have weathered a particularly vicious storm. NISRA figures demonstrate Coronavirus has now been linked to over 800 deaths in Northern Ireland, and the figure worldwide is more than 460,000 deaths.

We’ve had to deal with a novel Coronavirus whose behaviours are still not fully understood and whose symptoms can vary amongst those unlucky enough to contract it.

Some people have been fortunate to have had little or no symptoms.

However for others, the consequences have been severe – with some people, regarded as healthy, being forced into intensive care beds, and onto assisted ventilation.

Covid-19 has exacted a heavy toll on our elderly and on the staff who have bravely treated patients in hospitals and care homes.

Northern Ireland has done well to avoid its health system being engulfed by Covid-19 unlike other countries.

But the threat has not gone.

In the absence of a vaccine, Covid-19 still has the capacity to wreak havoc again, as people in Beijing in recent days have discovered and as the dramatic rise in infection at hotspots in Germany over the weekend has shown.

Complacency is a luxury we cannot afford.

As we exercise recently restored opportunities like visiting places of worship for individual prayer or going to clothes shops, or playing sport or meeting up with others outdoors, we still need to implement the guidance on social distancing and on hand hygiene.

In the coming days, when we are able to go to a hotel, restaurant, visitor attraction or the hairdresser’s, we will need to adapt our behaviour and be conscious of the capacity of the virus to flare up again with fatal consequences.

We owe it to ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours to keep following the health advice.

The communal spirit our community demonstrated at the outset of this health emergency has stood us in good stead but it is as vital now as it was then.

Protecting ourselves and the wider community suppresses this virus. Taking risks with our safety doesn’t.

A safety first approach in our homes, in the workplace, in our shops or any other public venue will help minimise virus spread.

It will unlock the other restrictions that remain in place.

The lesson of the past few months is clear and simple. Stay safe. Save lives. Work safe. Save lives,