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Northern Ireland's five-point plan for exiting Covid-19 lockdown published with no firm dates set out

Large outdoor-based retailers such as garden centres will be permitted to reopen in the first step.

NI First Minister Arlene Foster.
NI First Minister Arlene Foster.
Image: PA

Updated May 12th 2020, 12:13 PM

GROUPS OF FOUR to six people who do not share a household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing in one of the first steps in Northern Ireland’s road map out of lockdown.

A five-point plan with no firm dates has been published for exiting the coronavirus restrictions.

Those unable to work from home will be encouraged to return to work on a phased basis in another early shift if the reproductive rate at which the virus is spread continues to decline below one.

Large outdoor-based retailers such as garden centres will also be permitted to reopen in the first step as life edges its way back towards normality.

The decision on when to make changes will be guided primarily by the medical and scientific evidence and the NHS’s capacity to cope.

There is flexibility for different parts of the economy such as return to schooling and increased use of public transport to move at different paces.

Drive-through church services will be available and churches will open for private prayer at an early stage.

Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities will also be included in the first step of reopening.

Large indoor gatherings, nightclubs, concerts, close physical contact sports, restaurants, cafes, pubs and early years education will be included in the final, step five, relaxation.

Stormont’s next regular three-weekly review of the restrictions is due at the end of May but will be guided by the medical evidence at the time.

The number of people with confirmed coronavirus who have died in Northern Ireland stood at 438 yesterday. 

It is anticipated that some reviews to these measures will not bring any change to the regulations, and some could even see the region return to an earlier phase in the plan.

Ministers have said some changes could also been made in the middle of three week cycles.

People will be told to expect the journey to recovery to be gradual and incremental.

belfast-city-views Pubs and restaurants will have to wait until stage 5 before reopening. Source: PA Images

The coronavirus response has been the first major test of a powersharing administration at Stormont, which was restored in January after a three-year hiatus.

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At Stormont’s daily Covid-19 briefing at Stormont, DUP junior minister Gordon Lyon said people needed to be “realistic” about what the coming months would involve.

“There will be no dramatic lifting of restrictions,” he said. “Each step will be incremental and cautious.

“Social distancing is going to be with us for a very long time.”

Sinn Fein junior minister Declan Kearney said the plan would be “cautious and pragmatic”.

“By adopting an approach that is informed by the science it is also crucial that we do not set arbitrary timeframes for easing certain restrictions,” he said.

“We must retain the flexibility to respond to the emerging situation and achieve the best possible outcomes for all of our people.”

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