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Covid-19 lockdown set to continue but Stormont has road map plan


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Police stop traffic at a checkpoint in Belfast yesterday

Police stop traffic at a checkpoint in Belfast yesterday

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First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Police stop traffic at a checkpoint in Belfast yesterday

The Executive will lay out a road map for Northern Ireland's exit from lockdown next week that can give people hope for the future, Stormont's leaders have pledged.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said that while restrictions had been extended for another three weeks, it was important to give the public clarity on the next steps.

It came after First Minister Arlene Foster said there may be "nuanced" changes to the region's lockdown measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with the leaders of the devolved nations on Thursday, ahead of an expected announcement tomorrow on easing parts of the lockdown in England.

Yesterday UK Environment Secretary George Eustice warned there will be "no dramatic overnight change" and the government will be "very cautious".

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford announced three "modest adjustments" from Monday to restrictions there.

The Scottish First Minister, meanwhile, hinted there may be a region-by-region approach to easing lockdown.

Nicola Sturgeon said there was a "helpful recognition" in her call with the Prime Minister that the "four UK nations may well move at different speeds if our data about the spread of the virus says that that is necessary to suppress it".

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster said it was important to "move together as a bloc" with the rest of the UK to send a clear and simple message to the population.

She said restrictions in Northern Ireland, extended on Thursday, would remain in place for the foreseeable future. But she said it was important to offer some "hope" to the public.

She told BBC Breakfast: "There's a difference between sticking with the restrictions and making nuanced changes.

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First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

First Minister Arlene Foster

"During those three weeks we can look to see if there are some nuanced changes we can make and I would put going out more for exercise in the open air as a nuanced change rather than a fundamental change.

"I think those things can be looked at... but what is important is the regulations are put in place for another three weeks."

Mrs Foster said she spoke to Mr Johnson on Thursday, and he said he was "moving forward with maximum caution".

"He, and I as well, want us to move forward if we can in a four-nations way," she said.

"Because when we do that we have a simplicity of message, we have a clarity of message, and people really understand what's really going on when we move together as a bloc."

Yesterday, on a visit to Dungannon, Ms O'Neill repeated calls for an all-island approach to exiting lockdown.

She said the message, for now, remained to stay at home - but indicated plans for a loosening of restrictions would be made public in the coming days.

Ms O'Neill added: "We said we will publish an exit strategy and it will be here by the start of the week.

"Every action we take, we won't know the impact for a few weeks. People want to know in June and July they'll be able to do 'x,y,z' and I want to hopefully be in a position to give that information at the start of the week."

Ms O'Neill said that regardless of what Mr Johnson outlines tomorrow, the message here was the same. She added: "My message is very clear. Stay at home for the next three weeks. We're going to have an exit strategy to give us all some hope for the future.

"We live on an island, We need to work together across the island. It makes good common sense.

"The disease is spreading across the island at the very same rate. It's important we work together as best we that we can and we have to recognise the fact hat the disease doesn't stop at the border."

At the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Eustice said the Prime Minister will set out a "road map" tomorrow about how the current restrictions can evolve. He said the four nations are "all working together to try to have a broadly similar approach".

Mr Eustice said the UK is "not out of the woods" and that the UK will live with the virus for some time to come.

He said: "We will have to wait for what the Prime Minister has to say on Sunday but I think what I can say is this - he's going to set out effectively a road map of how we can evolve the current restrictions.

"We have this complete lockdown at the moment to something where certain activities may become possible in the short-term, in the near term and other things might take much longer.

"We have to be realistic that there isn't going to be dramatic overnight change, we will be very, very cautious as we loosen the restrictions we have, as the data we're outlining on a daily basis shows we are not out of the woods.

"There are still major challenges, we will be living with this virus for some time to come and it's therefore important to avoid that second peak that could overwhelm our NHS."

He added that all devolved administrations attended Cobra meetings and while each may take slightly different approaches they are working together "to try to have a broadly similar UK approach".

Belfast Telegraph