'Brighter times': Northern Ireland fast-tracks lockdown relaxations

15 April 2021, 23:21

Northern Ireland has brought its relaxation of lockdown forward
Northern Ireland has brought its relaxation of lockdown forward. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Northern Ireland can look forward to a brighter future after plans to reopen hospitality and tourism were fast tracked, the Executive said.

Outdoors service at pubs and cafes can return from April 30 and indoors from May 24.

All non-essential retail will open by April 30, with some services allowed to operate from April 23.

The decision to bring forward the reopening dates under consideration came after lengthy discussions on Thursday.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: "This is a landmark day for Northern Ireland as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery.

Read more: Customers scramble into shop as non-essential retail reopens in England

"I am pleased and proud that through our collective efforts we have reached a point where we have established a good level of control over the virus.

"We are now entering brighter and better times.”

Executive leaders Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill announced the fast-track
Executive leaders Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill announced the fast-track. Picture: PA

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told a special Assembly committee on Thursday evening: "Today, the light at the end of the tunnel has just got a little bit brighter.

"This is a day of positive progress.

"We have agreed a significant package of easements which will make a fundamental difference to people's lives and wellbeing."

Read more: UK economy grew in February during third national lockdown

From April 23, hairdressers and beauty salons can restart service, outdoor attractions can resume and outdoor competitive sports – without spectators – are permitted, among other relaxations.

From April 30, all remaining non-essential retail can reopen, outdoor service at pubs and cafes returns with groups of up to six of no more than two households, and curfews on takeaways and off licences will be lifted.

Gyms and swimming pools will allow customers back for individual activities and outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens can be sized up to 15 people from no more than three households.

Then, from May 24 – provided it gets signed off closer to the time – will see indoor hospitality service, tourist accommodation, domestic indoor gatherings and indoor attractions return.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events will be allowed in indoor venues provided risk assessments are undertaken.

It follows Monday's easing, which saw years eight to 11 return to school and some outdoor retail outlets like garden centres welcome back customers.

The stay at home advice was replaced with "stay local".

The news came as Northern Ireland, which has marked one million Covid-19 vaccinations, announced two more deaths of patients who tested positive for coronavirus infection, and another 159 cases, on Thursday.

The relaxations follow days of disorder and unrest across the country which injured scores of police officers.