Ireland’s senior Catholic clergyman has hailed a day of joy as worshippers returned to church services for the first time in 15 weeks.
Archbishop Eamon Martin paid tribute to healthcare workers who tirelessly served the sick and parishioners who volunteered to carry groceries and other essentials to those living alone.
He celebrated the first public Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh since the coronavirus lockdown began in March.
The archbishop said: “The past three-and-a-half months of lockdown marked a time of great uncertainty and anxiety.
“We had to make sacrifices for the common good and to protect life and health.”
The numbers attending services will be “substantially” reduced to enable social distancing, the Primate of All Ireland said.
Every other pew was roped off and empty as Mass was celebrated in Armagh on Monday.
The archbishop wore a face covering as he distributed communion bread.
He said: “It is such a joy to gather physically for Mass today, as well as to join virtually with many others who are participating over webcam.”
The archbishop added: “Some of our liturgical customs have also been adjusted to take account of health recommendations.
“I appeal to you therefore to be patient and understanding, and to co-operate in helping us fulfil our church guidelines.”
On Monday, one more Covid-19 related death was reported, and the total toll recorded by the Department of Health is 551.
Other changes to Northern Ireland’s lockdown taking effect on Monday mean elite athletes can train indoors and contact sport training can resume.
Childminders can care for the children of four families at one time.
The return of film fans to the big screen is likely to be slow and cautious, a cinema owner has said.
Cinemas across Northern Ireland have been given an indicative opening date of 29th July by the Stormont Executive.
Michael McAdam, owner of Movie House Cinemas, said: “It’s going to be a slow start, people aren’t going to be running out straight away, they are going to be cautious and we are going to be cautious ourselves in getting our staff trained up, so it is going to take us a while.
“A nice gentle recovery would be perfect for us.”
One-way pedestrian routes in busy public spaces could aid social distancing, guidance published by the Communities Department said.
Northern Ireland has become the first part of the UK to move from two metres to one metre, with some conditions.
Bus stops may be relocated to areas where they can better accommodate safe queuing, according to information published by Caral Ni Chuilin’s department.
Stewards and extra staff could manage multiple lines for different businesses, official guidance for owners and operators of town and city centres such as councils and landlords added.