Premises where customers cannot drink alcohol and outdoor sports facilities will be among the first to open as Northern Ireland moves out of lockdown, it has emerged.
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed its road map to lift Covid-19 restrictions, which reveals tentative steps are planned in a bid to stop another deadly wave of the virus.
Click and collect for non-essential retail, driving lessons and tests, and church services will all be permitted during the first step out of lockdown.
It comes as Northern Ireland recorded another 149 new cases of Covid-19, although official statistics show there have been no new cases in people over 80 in Causeway Coast and Glens or Antrim and Newtownabbey in the past seven days.
Announcing details of the plan at the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the plan as a “careful, cautious and hopeful approach to existing restrictions”.
Addressing her MLA colleagues, Mrs O’Neill said: “This is a risk-based strategy and one that we hope will be understood in the current Covid-19 context at this time. Our aim is to find a safe, secure, sustainable and understandable way forward.
“Today we want to give people hope, we want people to know that there is something to grab onto, that we have a way forward.”
However, asked whether she can provide a guarantee that there will be no further lockdowns, Mrs O’Neill refused to commit: “I think we should be very honest with the public also to say that this virus is still among us, it’s still spreading, it’s still too high a rate, there are new variants there.
“What we have done today and what we’re trying to achieve with this plan is that, if we do this in a gradual way, in a very considered way, if we work our way through it gradually and be cautious and take the right decisions at the right time, that mitigates against the risk of going backwards.
“Nobody wants to go backwards, we only want to go forwards here, so we deliberately stayed away from giving dates because I think that gives people false hope and it builds up peoples’ expectations that people grab onto and unfortunately can be disappointed.
“We’re trying to do this with the public, with the sectors, gradually easing our way through this and we hope and think this is the best way to avoid any slip back into stricter restrictions again.”
No dates have been provided in the road map document — decisions are instead expected to be guided by the level of infection and the pressure on the health service.
However, the plan is broken down into five steps, beginning with the current lockdown restrictions before providing details of the types of measures that will be relaxed in each phase in each sector.
The sectors are broken down by home and community, education and young people, culture, heritage and entertainment, sports and leisure activities, worship and ceremonies, travel and tourism, work, retail, and hospitality.
According to the document, by the end of the Cautious First Stage, people will be allowed to meet up with friends from one other household in the park or host a small barbecue in their garden with one other household.
The stay-at-home message will be relaxed and outdoor training, golf and tennis will also be permitted by the end of this stage.
Working from home where possible will remain the preferred approach, although a relaxation on workplace restrictions will come into force.
Meeting a friend for lunch in a coffee shop and takeaways after 11pm will also be permitted during the Cautious First Stage.
Moving into the next stage — Gradual Easing Phase — family and friends will finally be allowed to meet indoors again.
By the end of this phase, up to six people from two households will be able to meet inside, while there will also be a full return to the classroom for all pupils.
Leisure centres, indoor sports facilities, soft play centres, caravan sites, hotels, guest houses and B&Bs will also have reopened by the end of this phase.
All non-essential retail and close contact services will also be allowed to reopen, but with mitigations.
Premises where alcohol can be consumed, excluding pubs, will also reopen but will only permit table service for a maximum of six people from two households.
During the next phase, Further Easing phase, wet pubs will be allowed to reopen but only offer table service.
It is during this stage that overnight stays will finally be allowed, however, limits on the number of people who can meet inside a private dwelling will not be lifted until the fifth and final phase.
Celebrating a birthday with friends, attending a music festival or nightclub, live music and dancing at wedding receptions will only be allowed once Northern Ireland moves into the final phase of the plan.
Even then, the plan warns that some restrictions will remain in place, including mitigations for close contact services and the retail sector and risk assessments for outdoor gatherings, while plans will be under way for the full return of leisure travel.