Coronavirus: Northern Ireland unveils plans for easing lockdown

12 May 2020, 12:52

People can now meet in groups of four to six with social distancing
People can now meet in groups of four to six with social distancing. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Northern Ireland executive has announced a five-point plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown.

Ministers have announced that unlike plans announced in England, there is no timetable for lifting restrictions. Instead, certain public health criteria must be met in order for the next steps to be enacted.

The first step, which is being enacted today, allows...

- Those unable to work from home to return to work, although this will be phased

- Large outdoor retail can open including garden centres, but cafes and restaurants can still only offer takeaway or collection

- Groups of between four and six people can meet outdoors maintaining social distancing

- Visits to immediate family allowed indoors where social distancing is possible, unless a person is shielding

- Churches open for private prayer

- Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities to open

- Drive-through cinemas can open

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill made the announcement
Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill made the announcement. Picture: PA

First Minister Arlene Foster explained: "We will not take a set in stone approach if there are things we can do better and do differently.

"We will not be driven by a timetable and we know some will be disappointed by that, but our roadmap doesn't answer every query, it provides people with an indication of how things might move in the weeks and months ahead."

Speaking at Stormont, both Arlen Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill acknowledged the struggles the lockdown have caused for people in Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster said: "There will be a new normal, Covid-19 will not be beaten through restrictions, we may be living with it while clinical interventions are being developed."

"We will not be returning to the world we knew before Covid-19 for some time yet".

Michelle O'Neill said the executive “does not underestimate the severe impact of the restrictions” on society. “There’s a public awareness and understanding,” adding “we have collectively saved thousands of lives”.

Arlen Foster told the Northern Irish parliament: "These are strange times we are living through.

"The executive supported measures aimed at people giving the knowledge to live their lives as freely as possible within the existing legislative constraints and in line with public health advise.

"The Department of Health has committed to taking this forward with other departments and I want to stress again that our restrictions have worked and they have and are saving lives.

"We are asking a lot of our people and and appreciate that the restrictions have health and wellbeing implications too. We want everyone to be able to go out, visit relatives, socialise and experience everything that this place has to offer.

"We need to get people back to work when safe to do so and we will get there.

"I would like to end with a word of thanks for everyone who is working hard to keep us safe including those in our blue light services."

Northern Ireland has its own powers to set and lift restrictions at different rates than in the rest of the UK.The executive will review the coronavirus regulations every three weeks, with the next due by 28 May.

In some reviews, no changes may be recommended but the roadmap will be flexible and each process of review will not be linked to the next step of relaxations.

The executive must review the coronavirus regulations every three weeks, with the next due by 28 May.

There have been 438 deaths linked to coronavirus in Northern Ireland. There are 19 patients with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in ICU.

In Care Homes in Northern Ireland, there are 76 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 38 suspected cases.