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Different approach to Halloween and Christmas events in bid to avoid mass gatherings

Mid Ulster District Council is to set to approach this year’s Halloween and Christmas festivities differently, in a bid to avoid mass gatherings at unmanaged sites or town centres.

A report presented to members of Council’s development committee on Thursday, June 17, recommends Council does not organise any corporate events inviting large numbers of people to gather where safe capacity numbers cannot be managed and maintained.

The report notes town centres as an example of such a site but does not rule out holding events altogether, recommending that Council owned sites in each town are identified where safe events could take place to celebrate Halloween and Christmas instead.

Noting there is a still great deal of uncertainty about events and claiming Council’s events team have been “left with more questions than answers” the report notes guidance from the NI Executive still recommends a safe social distancing space of 2m and states it is difficult to forecast what the COVID-19 infection rate will be October 2021.

“It is important to highlight that the maximum number of spectators currently permitted to attend Halloween or Christmas events is limited to 500 people,” notes that report.

“Should these current maximum capacities remain in legislation approximately only one sixth of the spectators attending events in 2019 could legally attend.

“Furthermore, events budgets would not be reduced to reflect this.”

It continues by noting the risk of of non-ticket holders attending the area outside the event area and claims as a result of this risk,  “the Public Health Agency and/or the PSNI could cancel the event due to public safety”.

“Events cannot be organised as they were before COVID,” reads the report.

“Changes will have to be made with the aim of taking small steps to creating a new way of doing things whilst building and restoring confidence.”

A Council officer confirmed a further report would be brought back to the committee with more detailed proposals on the proposed events in September.

The committee’s Chair, Councillor Dominic Molloy said it was important to “strike the right balance” between being prepared to host events and keeping the public safe and complying with restrictions.

Councillor Kim Ashton said she was happy to propose the recommendation but said it would be important to consult with town centre businesses on any plans.

“I think it will be important to consult with town centre businesses on the next steps,” said Cllr Ashton.

“This thing is very much a moving beast but if it comes to it and we can’t run big events in the town centre for Halloween and Christmas we definitely need to be having a presence there in some form to try and help those businesses out.

“These types of events are big attractors of footfall and are important for our businesses so it is important we are in continuing dialogue with them.”

The committee Chair said he fully agreed with those comments and a Council officer confirmed they would be taken on board before the proposal to accept the recommendation was seconded by Councillor Francis Burton.

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