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‘Risk-based strategy’ with five steps agreed to steer North out of lockdown

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Road map: Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Road map: Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Road map: Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Premises where customers cannot drink alcohol and outdoor sports facilities will be among the first to open as Northern Ireland moves out of lockdown.

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed its road map to lift Covid-19 restrictions, which reveals tentative steps are planned in a bid to stop another deadly wave of the virus.

Click and collect for non-essential retail, driving lessons and tests, and church services will all be permitted during the first step out of lockdown.

It comes as Northern Ireland recorded another 149 new cases of Covid-19.

Announcing details of the plan at the Assembly yesterday, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the plan as a “careful, cautious and hopeful approach to existing restrictions”.

Addressing her MLA colleagues, Mrs O’Neill said: “This is a risk-based strategy and one that we hope will be understood in the current Covid-19 context at this time. Our aim is to find a safe, secure, sustainable and understandable way forward.

“Today we want to give people hope, we want people to know that there is something to grab on to, that we have a way forward.”

However, asked whether she can provide a guarantee that there will be no further lockdowns, Mrs O’Neill refused to commit: “I think we should be very honest with the public also to say that this virus is still among us, it’s still spreading, it’s still too high a rate, there are new variants there.

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“Nobody wants to go backwards, we only want to go forwards here, so we deliberately stayed away from giving dates because I think that gives people false hope and it builds up peoples’ expectations.”

No dates have been provided in the road map document decisions are instead expected to be guided by the level of infection and the pressure on the health service.

However, the plan is broken down into five steps, beginning with the current lockdown restrictions before providing details of the types of measures that will be relaxed in each phase in each sector.

The sectors are broken down by home and community, education and young people, culture, heritage and entertainment, sports and leisure activities, worship and ceremonies, travel and tourism, work, retail, and hospitality.

According to the document, by the end of the Cautious First Stage, people will be allowed to meet up with friends from one other household in the park or host a small barbecue in their garden with one other household.

The stay-at-home message will be relaxed and outdoor training, golf and tennis will also be permitted by the end of this stage.

Working from home where possible will remain the preferred approach, although a relaxation on workplace restrictions will come into force.

Meeting a friend for lunch in a coffee shop and takeaways after 11pm will also be permitted during the Cautious First Stage.

Moving into the next stage Gradual Easing Phase family and friends will finally be allowed to meet indoors again.

By the end of this phase, up to six people from two households will be able to meet inside, while there will also be a full return to the classroom for all pupils.

Leisure centres, indoor sports facilities, soft play centres, caravan sites, hotels, guest houses and B&Bs will also have reopened by the end of this phase.

All non-essential retail and close contact services will also be allowed to reopen, but with mitigations.

Premises where alcohol can be consumed, excluding pubs, will also reopen but will only permit table service for a maximum of six people from two households.

During the next phase, Further Easing phase, wet pubs will be allowed to reopen but only offer table service.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland


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