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NI road map to easing coronavirus lockdown: What stages schools return, hairdressers open and pubs pull pints

The Northern Ireland Executive has published its "recovery strategy" on how the lockdown measures will be lifted over the coming months.

First Minister Arlene Foster said there was "no set pathway for lifting restrictions" and instead changes in the rules will be guided by science and in "the safest possible way forward".

Mrs Foster said the Executive's new five-stage plan will be subject to change, depending on the progress made in tackling the pandemic.

“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," she said.

“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 judgments 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 added: “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."

While the restrictions are to be reviewed every three weeks as set out in law, the First Minister Arlene Foster said they would be continually examined to determine when to lift restrictions. The first ministers have said it is important there is flexibility in the process and steps could go forwards as well as backwards depending on the virus spread.


On not including dates in the plan, Michelle O'Neill said: "We looked very carefully at the issue of putting timelines and specific dates to certain areas and we decided against that for the reason that people want light at the end of the tunnel and we don't want to build up expectation and then you have to move back.

"We have built in enough flexibility to this programme that if the chief scientific officer were to sit down tomorrow and say we're now at 0.5 (in the R number, the reproductive rate of the virus), for example, we could move into step one ahead of the three weeks."

The Executive has outlined "guiding principles" that will be taken into consideration as the lockdown is lifted.

The principles are controlling the transmission of Covid-19, protecting healthcare capacity to deal with the virus, retaining restrictions only as long as necessary, ensuring restrictions are proportionate to the threat of the virus and using the best evidence to inform proposals for change.

Here is what the plan says:

Step one

Groups of four to six people who are not from the same household being able to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing. With the exception of people who are shielding, visits to immediate family allowed indoors where social distancing is possible.

Drive-through church services, churches opening for private prayer, opening of outdoor spaces and public sport amenities, drive-through cinemas and more sports, including some water activities, golf and tennis.

More encouraged to return to work if they can't at home on a phased basis and with measures to protect workers in place.

And large outdoor retailers such as garden centres can open although associated cafes and restaurants can only be takeaway.

Step two

Groups of 10 able to meet outdoors, team sports training on a non-contact basis in small groups, re-opening of some libraries and open-air museums, as well as indoor activities involving limited contact of less than 10 minutes and with two to four people.

Non-food retailers can open with limited numbers of customers to allow for social distancing.

A wider definition of key workers with their children able to use schools.

People encouraged to walk or cycle instead of using public transport if possible. Anticipated increase in public transport with challenges on ensuring social distancing.

Step three

Groups of up to 30 able to gather outside, re-opening of more libraries as well as museums and galleries, concert and theatre rehearsals resuming and larger indoor gatherings.

Phased return of office and onsite working following risk assessments. But staff that can work from home should continue to do so.

Education to return to schools. With expansion of provision to accommodate a number of priority cohorts on a part time basis with a blended learning approach involving a combination of in-school and remote learning.

Step four

Socially distanced church services, resumption of competitive sport behind closed doors or with a limited number of spectators, leisure centres re-opening and outdoor concerts resuming on a restricted basis.

Hairdressers, fitness studios and tattoo/piercing parlous can reopen, subject to restrictions and after risk assessments.

School returns for all - but on a part time basis with on campus and remote learning.

Expected increase in public transport use. Demand reduced by encouraging through continued home working and staggered starts for businesses to assist social distancing.

Social distancing requirements remain in place.

People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible.

Step five

Resumption of close physical contact sports, return of competitive sport, spectators at live events on a restricted basis as well

Return to work for all - subject to restrictions and remote working still encouraged.

Restaurants, cafes, pubs, nightclubs and concerts can resume subject to risk assessment, on a limited basis to start with.

Further expansion of school provision. Early year pupils to a full time basis although subject to scientific advice.

Public transport operating a full service but subject to ongoing risk assessment with message of walking and cycling repeated.

Belfast Telegraph