Retailers and retail bodies have welcomed news that non-essential street-level shops can reopen from this Friday.
Economy minister Diane Dodds made the announcement yesterday in a move that has fast-tracked the retail sector to a restart and keeps it in line with retailers in the south.
Mrs Dodds said the reopening of stores that are not considered essential would be subject to retailers putting effective safety measures in place, and no increase to the spread of the virus by Thursday. She said: "The recovery has already begun and it is time now for the pace to accelerate. The reopening of all goods retail outlets will be a huge part of this.
"The safety of staff and customers is of course paramount. All retailers must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and to the people who visit their stores.
"We will be co-existing with this virus for some time to come so it is vital that we continue to adhere to guidance to work and live safely. Debenhams is an excellent example of how retailers can make this work and adapt to this new normal." The minister added: "The reopening of our local shopping sector is a significant step forward in the Executive's pathway to recovery. I and my Executive colleagues remain committed to moving forward in the recovery while at all times keeping the health, wellbeing and safety of people at the centre and being transparent in our approach.
"This is a major step forward today, but there is more work to do and I will continue to work to progress the recovery."
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium supported the news and called for "continued support from all levels of government and the PSNI to get shoppers to and through towns safely. The strong partnership working must continue."
Meanwhile, Londonderry's Chamber chief executive Paul Clancy praised the "mirroring" of the Republic's opening dates. He said: "By not aligning our reopening timelines north and south, we seriously risked shops and businesses in Derry and the north west being unfairly disadvantaged over their counterparts in Donegal and beyond, and many local retailers will be relieved by today's announcement."
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts "strongly welcomed" the announcement, describing it as a "reboot for retail". He said that he has written to the Executive to establish a 'High Street and Retail Advisory Group' to ensure the safe reopening of the city including "the repurposing and reimagining of public spaces to accommodate queuing customers as well as significant changes to public transport".
Stephen McCammon, managing director of NI homeware and retail chain Menarys, said the news means 14 of his 15 stores here could reopen.
He said: "It's great news and we've had a dry run with our homeware-based stores. We've got all the adaptations in place - socially distanced shopping, PPE, Perspex screens and the reaction from customers has been encouraging.
"It's also encouraging to see the doors open and have the staff back in place. We are pleased the Executive is taking this decision but it's got to be done within the correct safety guidelines so we are sending out a reassuring message."
The announcement comes after newly released retail figures showed footfall here in May increased by 6% from April, due to the opening of DIY stores.