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Coronavirus: Foster and O'Neill defend lack of dates in NI roadmap

The First Minister and deputy First Minister defended the lack of dates in Northern Ireland's five-stage road map out of the lockdown.​

Speaking at Tuesday's Covid-19 daily briefing just hours after unveiling the plan, which has no firm dates for exiting coronavirus restrictions, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill stressed a lack of dates gives the region some "flexibility" going forward.

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 the road map.

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.

However, unlike the Republic and England there is no specific timescale, prompting business leaders here to call for a clearer timeline to enable companies to prepare to re-open.

Insisting the plan is not a "silver bullet", Mrs Foster said the focus going forward will be on the R number - the rate at which the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to - and ensuring it remains below one.

"It will be a graduated, step-by-step process. but the following the steps that we have set out, I hope it will aid recovery and renewal here in Northern Ireland," said the first minister.

"We want to make sure that we set out a step-by-step process and kept that flexible to be able to move.

"If there is a way in which we can move before May 28 we will move."

Northern Ireland's R number is as of Tuesday 0.79

Ms O'Neill said: "We are going to do things that are necessary, proportionate and reliance on the evidence is key."

Responding to a question about Northern Ireland being out of step with the Republic and England in terms of specific dates, Mrs Foster said that other jurisdictions' use of dates was so "heavily caveated" it had to be asked if it would be any use.

"When they get to that date they may not be able to move forward and people will be disappointed.," she explained.

"We took the decision that we wanted to be flexible and if we can move in a faster way we will do that.

"It is a clearer way to do that.

"If we push the R number down, then we will be moving in that direction."

Echoing the position, Ms O'Neill insisted it is the correct course for the region to be following.

"It is wrong to be guided purely by dates... the draconian restrictions were brought in by the modelling, so it follows the logic to come out (of the lockdown) with the modelling," she insisted.

The deputy first minister added the "cornerstone" of the plan is testing, revealing plans are underway to increase testing capacity by 1,500 people every day.

"Our capacity currently just over 2,000 each day...the cornerstone of the plan is: test, trace and isolate," she said.

Belfast Telegraph