Retail, outdoor hospitality, gyms and hairdressers - lockdown easing dates for NI expected today

All retail across Northern Ireland could reopen this month along with hairdressers and outdoor attractions, if measures to be put before the Executive today are agreed upon.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 9:46 am

A whole raft of significant lockdown easing measures are expected to be announced later today with dates to be confirmed for the first time.

These include the potential for reopening outdoor hospitality and gyms, possibly in early May, and reopening retail and hairdressers and restarting driving tests and lessons prior to that.

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann have all already signalled the likelihood of a number of reopening dates being outlined.

Shoppers in Derry’s city centre during 2020 before the latest lockdown. Photo: George Sweeney DER2047GS - 003

Ministers are convening today for a formal review of their lockdown exit strategy.

The first significant steps towards easing the tough COVID restrictions imposed north and south at the start of 2021 came into effect on Monday.

For some of them, this is the for the first week at school since before the Christmas 2020 break.

A raft of other measures including relaxation of travel limits and outdoor activities have also come into force.

Shoppers in Foyleside shopping centre in early 2020 before masks were introduced. DER2027GS - 019

In the north, the latest steps were described this week as “good news for our society” by the First Minister and deputy first Minister, ahead of the further review today.

Measures now in effect in the north mean: Up to 10 people from two households can meet outdoors in a private garden; Up to 15 people (including coaches) can take part in structured outdoor sports training, through clubs or individuals; The number permitted to attend marriages, civil partnerships and funerals, will be informed by a risk assessment for the venue; Contactless ‘click and collect’ is permitted for all retail; Outdoor retail is permitted to reopen; Potential marriage and civil partnership customers may view the facilities of venues used for marriages and civil partnerships, such as hotels and other venues, restricted to a maximum of four customers per visit.

The ‘stay at home’ provision has been removed from legislation. A ‘stay local’ and ‘work from home’ message is in place instead.

The Health Minister Robin Swann said on Wednesday: “As we slowly and cautiously start to lift the restrictions that have become part of our lives there is no doubt there is much to be optimistic about. The success of our vaccination programme is down to the professionalism and dedication of all those across our HSC system, many of whom will have seen first hand the devastation that Covid-19 has brought to families across Northern Ireland.

A shop assistant in a city centre jewellers wearing a face shield in early 2020. DER2027GS - 020

“The vaccination programme continues at pace and I again would urge anyone who is over 40 and who still hasn’t booked a slot to please do so, this vaccine protects us and those close to you. I am looking forward to getting my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine knowing the full protection that this will bring.”

The Minister added: “It has been a privilege to visit the Trust vaccination centres and to see the work being done by the vaccination teams. It is testament to them that we have now administered over 1 million vaccines and over 838,000 people in Northern Ireland have now received a Covid-19 vaccine.”

Speaking after the one million vaccine milestone was reached in the north, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is a hugely significant day. Passing the landmark of one million vaccines is incredibly encouraging. The success of our vaccination programme and the reduction in new positive cases, particularly among vaccinated groups, gives us real hope that we are slowly making our way out of this pandemic and moving towards better times for us all.”

In the south of Ireland, as of this week, if you have received the second dose of the vaccine more than 2 weeks ago, you can now meet with other fully vaccinated people from another house indoors without wearing masks or staying 2 metres apart.

For everyone in Donegal, the 5km travel restriction has ended and people living in Donegal can now travel anywhere within the county or 20 miles across county lines if they live near a county border.

People can also meet one other household outside but not in gardens; all residential construction can restart as well as early-learning and childcare projects.

From April 26 in south, outdoor sports facilities can reopen such as pitches, golf courses and tennis courts, while outdoor visitor attractions like zoos, open pet farms, heritage sites can reopen.

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