Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 restrictions are to be eased from Friday, the First and Deputy First Ministers confirmed in a press conference following the Executive meeting on Thursday.
The Ministers confirmed the rule of six and table service in hospitality venues are to be removed from Friday, while nightclubs are to be allowed to reopen from noon on Wednesday next week.
Paul Givan said the Executive meeting was “constructive” and said he was “delighted at the consensus reached” among ministers.
Michelle O’Neill said it was a “good day and hopeful day” but urged a note of caution and continued to advise the public to take up the offer of a vaccine.
"It is very clear we now appear to be past the peak in terms of case numbers,” she told reporters.
"We will ask the public to work with us. February 10 is marked as next big staging post. Todays progress is to be welcomed but doesn’t mean we get complacent.
"I think we shouldn’t get carried away, we are still in the middle of the pandemic. We need to be cautious in our optimism.”
The Stormont Executive has agreed that nightclubs will be permitted to open from noon on Wednesday January 26.
From the same date, dancing and indoor standing events can resume, and in workplaces the requirement for offices to take reasonable measures for two-metre social distancing will also be removed.
The legal requirement for Covid certification will continue in nightclubs and indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 or more.
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to lift restrictions on the 21st & 26th January and reduced the areas Covid Passports will be legally required to nightclubs and indoor unseated events with 500+ people. This is welcome progress. pic.twitter.com/qcIFEsmYwr— Paul Givan (@paulgivan) January 20, 2022
For other settings the certification will no longer be required but its use encouraged.
Remaining Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland will be reviewed by the Stormont Executive on February 10.
These include the legal duty on retail to take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission, the legal requirement to wear face coverings and the legal requirement for risk assessments in prescribed settings.
Update on the easing of COVID restrictions following today’s Executive meeting.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) January 20, 2022
The health data is showing that we have passed the peak of omicron cases and hospital pressures.
Today is one of hope and optimism as we look forward to brighter days ahead. pic.twitter.com/BnArJTBT75
Speaking to the media in the Ebrington area, Mr Givan described being “delighted” at the decisions taken.
"I think the public will be pleased with these decisions that we've been able to take," Mr Givan said.
"It's proportionate, it reflects the changing circumstances that we have in respect of Covid and it is a step in the right direction.
"The February 10 date will be an important meeting now for those outstanding measures that are still in place.
"I think it is a cause for people to be optimistic for so long people have been fearful, they have been anxious, now we are in a much better place.
"We still need people though to be cautious to put into practice all those things they can take decisions for themselves, but the requirement for government intervention is no longer required the way it may have been previously.
"We have to reflect the way in which this is changing we need to allow our society to get back to as close as normality as we can.”
The incoming changes to the Covid-19 restrictions have been welcomed, including by the Health Minister Robin Swann, who said progress on the pandemic was “thanks to a massive effort across Northern Ireland”.
Despite welcoming the changes, Mr Swann described a sense of “cautious optimism” was required in the weeks and months ahead, as he stressed the “pressures on the health service remain severe”.
“Please keep supporting them by avoiding any actions that would further destabilise the health system,” he added.
"Keep wearing a face covering, working from home if possible and taking all the other steps that help prevent the virus spreading. This is certainly not the time to throw caution to the wind.
"That would increase case numbers again, intensify pressures on the health service and set us back significantly in the progress we have been making.”
Bodies representing retail groups have also welcomed the changes announced.
Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the changes are a “significant step forward” but called for a roadmap to be issued by the Executive.
Speaking after the Executive agreed to lift restrictions on the 21st & 26th January. More work ahead to make further progress on the 10th February. pic.twitter.com/b9T7laWbv2— Paul Givan (@paulgivan) January 20, 2022
He said they need to set out a “clear plan for the safe and timely return of public and private sector staff to their offices and workplaces”.
Meanwhile Londonderry Chamber Chief Executive Paul Clancy called for the Executive to continue to support businesses impacted by the pandemic.
"The speedy roll out of schemes like the Omicron Hospitality Payment is vital and we would encourage government departments to work to ensure they are delivered as quickly as possible.”