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'Not the time to lift restrictions,' says Foster as Executive unveils lockdown exit plan

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the Assembly on Tuesday. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the Assembly on Tuesday. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the Assembly on Tuesday. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster has said that the Northern Ireland Executive has decided "now is not the time" to lift the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

She made the comments at the Northern Ireland Assembly as the Executive unveiled its five step plan for exiting the lockdown.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill stressed that the guidelines would not remain in place forever as she urged the public to stick to them to allow lockdown to be lifted earlier.

Unlike England and the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland's plan does not include firm dates and will instead be guided by a number of conditions.

Last week the current restrictions were extended for another three weeks and are next up for review on May 28. They will then be reviewed on a rolling three week basis and could be rolled back if infection levels rise.

The key factors that define whether or not restrictions can be lifted are the latest scientific and medical advice, the level of transmission and the impact of any implications as a result of easing the lockdown.

Capacity of the health and social care sector to deal with new Covid-19 cases will also be considered, as will assessment of the wider health, social and economic impacts of the lockdown.

The Executive has also outlined five "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.

The Department for the Economy is currently working on a financial plan to complement the Executive plan.

Under the first stage of the plan groups of four to six people who are not from the same household will be able to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing.

Drive-through church services will also be allowed as will churches opening for private prayer. The first stage will also see the opening of outdoor spaces and public sport amenities, drive-through cinemas and more sports, including some water activities, golf and tennis.

Garden Centres will also be allowed to reopen.

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill in the Assembly on Tuesday.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill in the Assembly on Tuesday.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill in the Assembly on Tuesday.

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday Ms O'Neill suggested that Northern Ireland could move to Step 1 as soon as the next review of restrictions on May 28.

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

The third step will see groups of up to 30 being able to gather outside, the re-opening of more libraries as well as museums and galleries, concert and theatre rehearsals resuming and larger indoor gatherings.

In terms of work there will be a phased return to the office, but those that can should still work from home.

The fourth step is set to see 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.

Schools will work to accommodate the attendance of all pupils on a part-time basis in tandem with continued remote learning.

Hairdressers and fitness studios will also be allowed to reopen subject to mitigations following a risk assessment.

The fifth step will include the resumption of close physical contact sports, return of competitive sport, spectators at live events on a restricted basis as well as the re-opening of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and concerts on a limited basis.

Everyone will be able to return to work subject to mitigations while younger pupils will be able to return to school full time subject to medical and scientific advice.

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First Minister Arlene Foster announces a five-stage plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland has been published by the executive. Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster announces a five-stage plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland has been published by the executive. Pacemaker

First Minister Arlene Foster announces a five-stage plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland has been published by the executive. Pacemaker

DUP leader Mrs Foster acknowledged that some people may be disappointed the plan does not include set dates.

"Many will want answers immediately around specific scenarios that impact them most directly," she told the Assembly.

"Our road map won't answer every query - it provides an indication, which people can use in looking ahead and anticipating how the next weeks and months might evolve."

Ms O'Neill appealed to the public to be patient around the lifting of the lockdown.

"Our biggest threat in the fight against Covid-19 is complacency," she said.

"Until a vaccine is found it means co-existing with the virus and therefore a radical change to how we live our daily lives for some time.

"Life as we know it has changed, we will have to continue to adjust."

Belfast Telegraph