More retailers can open and small outdoor weddings will receive the go-ahead from June 8 if the coronavirus infection rate remains under control, ministers in Northern Ireland said.
Large stores like car showrooms will be able to open their doors.
Those in retail parks stocking household electrical appliances, computer equipment, mobile phones and furniture are also due to reopen, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said.
Activities to be permitted include:
– Weddings limited to fewer than ten people.
– Taking pets for treatment or grooming.
– Outdoor sports facilities.
– Hotels will be allowed to take forward bookings at their own risk but no date was set for reopening.
Ms O’Neill said: “Today represents forward momentum.”
The ministers defended their decision not to allow indoor gatherings of people yet.
Science suggests the virus spreads more easily indoors than outdoors.
Supermarket sales have set a 26-year record recently, while takeaway business is up 250%, the ministers said.
They also said 99 health and social care workers had been redeployed as contact tracers where coronavirus was detected.
Over the seven days to May 25, 212 cases were followed up, about 30 per day.
Ms O’Neill said it took two or three weeks to properly monitor how the disease has spread.
It will be June 8 before they know what impact earlier easements like allowing small groups to meet outdoors, solitary prayer at church and reopening of garden centres, has had on the virus’ rate of spread.
The deputy first minister added they needed to be confident the rate of transmission had not risen above one.
The Stormont Executive will meet again on June 4 to make a final decision.
Health minister Robin Swann issued a plea for the public to stick with social-distancing rules to help stem the spread of the virus and allow more lockdown easements.
Your actions today will have an effect on what we can actually do on June 8Robin Swann
Speaking during a visit to Belfast City Hospital where he donated blood, Mr Swann said “responsibility lies with the people of Northern Ireland”.
“So the people who are heading out to the beaches, the people that are gathering in the parks and thinking everything’s fine – your actions today will have an effect on what we can actually do on June 8,” he said.
“When we see a low number of people in ICU, when we see our deaths gradually starting to decrease, that’s because of the responsible actions of the people of Northern Ireland took three weeks ago. That’s the payback.”
Two more deaths involving Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Thursday, taking the total to 518.
The ministers said the advice from chief scientific officer Professor Ian Young favoured people remaining two metres apart.
Mrs O’Neill said: “He is very clear in saying that the further apart you are, the lower the risk.
“He indicated that the closer you are, the greater the risk.
“He also said that a few seconds together at one metre is the same as 15 minutes together at two metres.”
She said ministers recognised the sacrifices being made by members of the public.
“Anyone choosing to ignore the public health advice could be extending lock down for all of us,” she added.
She said only 5% of the population has been infected.
She added: “We have always said coming out of this will be more difficult than going into it.
“We have also said we would take into account the wider health, economic and societal issues.
“We want a prosperous economy at the other side of this. We’ve got some momentum today, we hope to build on that next week.”
Mrs Foster acknowledged people would be disappointed ministers could not go further in lifting the restrictions but warned of continuing concern about the R rate.
She said: “Too many relaxations too quickly can push it back up into the territory that we do not want it to be in.”
Traffic flow on Tuesday this week was up 11.5% compared to the previous Tuesday.