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Northern Ireland's 'small steps' towards normality outlined by Foster

Stormont has agreed "cautious but optimistic" relaxations to coronavirus regulations, as the First Minister Arlene Foster outlined the next tentative steps out of lockdown.

While most current restrictions will remain in place until after Easter, the Executive agreed to gradual changes which will come into effect before the next formal review date on or before April 15.

Relaxations included all Primary 4 to 7 pupils returning to school next Monday, March 22.

It was also agreed that Year 8-11 pupils will return to the classroom after the Easter holiday on April 12, subject to a review of the public health situation at the end of March.

The plan by the Executive also agreed that outside sports, such as golf or tennis, involving up to 10 people from two households will be allowed to resume from April 1.

Up to six people, including children, from no more than two households may meet outdoors in a garden, and garden centres and plant nurseries will be able to operate a contactless click and collect service.

The Executive also agreed that on April 12, up to 10 people from two households could meet up together outside in a garden.

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There will also be a contactless click and collect service for all non-essential retail. Elite sports training will also be permitted to take place, alongside the removal of the 'stay at home' messaging.

The 'stay at home' rule is also set to lift next month, replaced with a 'stay local' message.

The decisions were made in line with the Executive's Pathway Out Of Restrictions strategy, which was agreed earlier this month. Describing the announced relaxations in the Assembly chamber, Mrs Foster said the changes represented a series of "small steps" towards normality.

The First Minister referred to the concept of "social contact capital" when explaining that lifting some restrictions meant others had to be kept in place.

She said the Executive had an "amount of decision-making capital which we can afford to spend". She said ministers must "spend it wisely" and "in the interests of as many people as possible". "If we spend the capital on one easement of restrictions, it can't be spent on other things at the same time," she told MLAs.

The First Minister said the Executive will "work our way through the restrictions in a careful and managed way at each four-week review point".

The DUP leader acknowledged that those in the retail sector may be disappointed at the extent of the moves announced.

"To our colleagues in the retail sector we realise that today's developments are modest and we have a long way to go," she said.

"We thank you for your forbearance and we recognise that large sections of retail have been on the frontline all year. We say thank you as an Executive to everyone who has supplied goods, stocked shelves, served customers and looked after us all over a protracted period of time."

Mrs Foster also confirmed there is no date yet for close contact services, including driving tests. She said she hoped they would resume "in due course".

Yesterday's announcement comes after one further death and 164 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Northern Ireland over the previous 24 hours. The total death toll in Northern Ireland now stands at 2,100.

Belfast Telegraph

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