More businesses are to get indicative reopening dates after Stormont adopted a more calendar-driven approach to its exit plan.
The executive had previously insisted that it would only be led by the science and resisted calls to include provisional dates in its recovery blueprint.
Ministers are also examining a range of steps that will allow hospitality providers to serve customers in outdoor settings, including changes to licensing laws and restrictions on street furniture.
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said they had now reached a position in the coronavirus response where it was possible to outline timetables, so businesses had time to prepare to reopen.
Next week, they intend to give a range of businesses indicative dates.
These will include restaurants and other hospitality outlets.
Ministers had previously given one sector of the economy – hotels and tourist accommodation – a timeline to reopening, on July 20.
That date now looks like it could potentially be brought forward when other dates are announced next week.
Mrs Foster defended the initial policy of not providing dates.
“At that time we were in a completely different scenario,” she said.
“We needed to be flexible and therefore by setting dates – and you’ve seen this in the Republic of Ireland actually whereby they set dates and they have had to change those dates – we felt it was right to be flexible and set the parameters of what we were discussing.
“We’ve now got to the stage where we feel that we probably can give indicative dates, depending on the fact that we’re at a particular stage in the transmission of the virus.
“So we want to be able to signpost to people that they should get ready and that they should be putting in place all of the mitigation measures that they need to put in place to open up to the public.”
Ms O’Neill said the new approach was “building” on the framework.
“This is totally in tandem with what we set out, I think it’s important the public know we have a plan and we certainly do,” she said.
“And so what we’re saying today is that as our next step forward where we are at now in terms of disease spread that we think it’s right and proper that we should and we can set out those indicative dates to allow everybody to plan.”
At the daily coronavirus briefing, the ministers said several Stormont departments were working on steps that would allow restaurants and pubs to utilise more outdoor space.
Communities minister Deirdre Hargey is set to bring forward amendments to licensing laws to allow people to consume alcohol in a wider area outside a business.
She has also written to local councils to see what steps can be taken to let businesses operate outside.
Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon is also examining further potential pedestrianisation steps in towns and cities.
Ms O’Neill said: “I think there is an opportunity for us here right now to look at developing the cafe culture, how do we use our streets and how do we make sure that we both create opportunities where people can safely sit out and have something to eat and meet their friends and do all those things but actually we’re actually helping the industry because we’re creating a different kind of culture.”
Mrs Foster said it provided an opportunity to do something “different”.
“I think it is actually something new and innovative, something that we should look at,” she said.