Ulster Business

| 16.1°C Belfast

Five stage plan to open up Northern Ireland from coronavirus lockdown

Close

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill at a Stormont press briefing

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill at a Stormont press briefing

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill at a Stormont press briefing

A five point plan will see Northern Ireland easing out of lockdown with family visits, the reopening of large outdoor retailers and those unable to work from home returning to workplaces as part of the first steps.

But there are no dates linked to the phased reopening, and current lockdown restrictions remain in place.

Step two will see non-food firms able to open where social distancing measures can be put in place, while the next will include a phased return to work in offices and other onsite operations.

Step four will include ‘contact’ retail businesses such as hairdressers, gyms and tattoo parlours being allowed to open.

The final step will see all individuals able to return to work, and the hospitality sector can open on a limited basis with restrictions in place.

The full details can be read here

“We recognise how difficult the current restrictions are,” First Minister Arlene Foster said. “But those restrictions, and the determined people of Northern Ireland who have adhered to them, have saved lives and continue to do so.

“We don’t want to keep any restriction in place any longer than we have to, but in relaxing any measure we must be cognisant of the potential effects in the transmission of the virus and our ability to save lives.

“The Executive’s recovery strategy sets out a pathway for us to emerge from lockdown in the safest way possible. This will require a series of judgements and decisions as we move forward. These decisions will be evidence based, taking account of our unique circumstances here in Northern Ireland.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We don’t underestimate the impact that the severe restrictions have had on everyone across our society. While they are still absolutely necessary, it is important that we give people hope for the future.

“Today we have set out our pathway for future recovery which gives an indication of how the restrictions on different aspects of life may be eased at various stages.

“The incremental five-step approach reflects the risk-based judgements we will make at each stage. These decisions will be evidenced by medical and scientific advice and benchmarked against our guiding principles and international best practice.”

REACTION

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

"We in the retail industry welcome the risk based and clear vision set out by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister today. Northern Ireland retailers of all sizes and formats are working hard to get ready to re-open safely, putting in place the necessary social distancing and hygiene measures to protect customers and staff.

“We welcome visibility on the route out of lockdown but we will need to see a time line to allow retailers and our supply chains to prepare. We have already worked with the NI Executive Engagement Forum to deliver a practical guide to making work places safer so whenever the time comes, retail will be ready to play its part in getting Northern Ireland’s economy moving again, once the devolved administration permits full trading. But our first concern will always be the safety of staff and customers. There are still areas which will need partnership working with government especially as far as timeframes are concerned.

“But we need the public to play their part. Firstly in maintaining social distancing and other protective measures while in stores and queuing and secondly by continuing to follow wider guidelines to allow the steps to recovery to happen as quickly as possible. We know this has been a challenging time for everyone, but if we all work together, we can come out of this sooner and help our economy and our society recuperate.”

Glyn Roberts, Retail NI, chief executive

“This is a step forward to move towards the lifting of lockdown and the reopening of the economy. Retail NI looks forward to working with the NI Executive on its implementation”

“We welcome that reopening of non-food retail is included as a key step, however what those businesses will need is a date to plan for. The plan for England includes early June as a target date for those retailers to reopen and we believe this is achievable for Northern Ireland with appropriate social distancing.

“If more workers are returning to work in retail and other key sectors, then we can make appropriate childcare provision. This needs to a key priority.

“This document is welcome progress, but business needs key dates and times to prepare for the gradual reopening of the economy. We fully recognise that all of this is subject to medical advice and protection for workers and consumers."

Simon Hamilton, chief executive, Belfast Chamber

"While it’s positive that the Executive has published its ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, it is disappointing that it does not include even indicative timings like elsewhere which would allow businesses to plan properly for their reopening"

Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry

“The Executive’s five-step plan provides a significant step forward in terms of information available on the easing of lockdown, however the absence of dates means that planning ahead will be a challenge for businesses of all sizes.

“Businesses share the NI Executive’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks – and they will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully. They now need to see the Executive’s plan supported by clear guidance. It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of PPE, so that they can make plans to re-open safely.”

Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland director

"Putting people’s health first and taking a flexible approach to the easing of lockdown measures is the only way to restart the NI economy.

“Getting Northern Ireland back to work in a way that prioritises safety will minimise the impact on livelihoods from this pandemic. It must be done gradually, based on science, to retain public confidence. Moving too far, too fast could set back the economic restart.

“Only by employers, employees and unions working together with the Executive will we begin to build back better, setting out a vision for the future of our economy based on fairness and sustainability.

“And it remains in everyone’s interests for economic experts to continue to work North-South and East-West if we are to have the best chance of protecting public health and restoring people’s prosperity.”