As Northern Ireland saw the reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality on Friday, the First Minister described it as the “heart and soul” of high streets returning.
Thousands queued outside shops and bars on Friday, as people were delighted to indulge in some retail and leisure time, following four months of restrictions.
Leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools also reopened across Northern Ireland today.
The first ministers both welcomed the reopening and said it was a “positive step forward” in the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
The outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster visited Dungannon, together with Glyn Roberts from the Retail NI group.
Speaking as she engaged with business owners and local traders, Mrs Foster said: “I would like to commend particularly the smaller independent traders, often family-run businesses, who have been hit hard during this pandemic.
“I have heard today of the significant challenges faced and overcome. Our retail and hospitality businesses have shown great energy, creativity and determination as they return to what they do best, providing fantastic products and services to the people of Northern Ireland.
“It is great to see the heart and soul of our high streets safely back open again today.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was meeting shoppers in Cookstown on Friday.
“The past number of months have been difficult for everyone, not least our business community. I am delighted that we are now at a point where we are able to reopen our high streets,” she said.
“This is not only good news for business owners and the wider economy, but it will also be a huge relief to workers and their families.
“Retailers and other business owners have made great efforts to keep staff and customers safe. But we must remember that Covid-19 is still with us and we all have a duty to shop and socialise responsibly.”