Smaller shops in Northern Ireland will be allowed to reopen from Friday in a “huge” step towards normality, Stormont ministers declared.
On Monday, the powersharing administration accelerated the pace of recovery from a pandemic lockdown which has devastated the local economy.
Elite athletes took to the track again in Belfast while, at the other end of the spectrum, the most vulnerable ventured outdoors for the first time in weeks as restrictions were relaxed.
Stormont’s leaders said the latest scientific advice had given “head room” for further changes as the country recorded no deaths from Covid-19 for the second day in a row.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “The recovery has already begun and it is time now for the pace to accelerate.
“The reopening of all goods retail outlets will be a huge part of this.”
There is a long and hard road ahead for our local economy, but I have no doubt our retail sector will be at the cutting edge of this recoveryGlyn Roberts
Small retailers represent the majority on Northern Ireland’s high streets.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “It is a major step forward for rebooting our economy as a whole.
“There is a long and hard road ahead for our local economy, but I have no doubt our retail sector will be at the cutting edge of this recovery.”
All non-essential goods retailers in Northern Ireland can reopen from June 12, subject to them adhering to the necessary safety measures and no increase in the spread of the virus, to be reviewed by ministers on Thursday.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said the latest scientific advice gave them space to act.
She added: “They are very clear that there is now head room for us to be able to move.”
One of the most pressing outstanding measures is that allowing family members to meet again indoors.
The virus is spread more easily indoors than outdoors.
Mrs Foster said the social “bubble” concept of allowing certain groups to meet had been successfully adopted in New Zealand.
She added: “We want to explore how we can move that forward, (if) there is a way of dealing with it in a meaningful way that is something we should consider and it is something we will consider on Thursday.”
Robert and Isobel Campton, from east Belfast, were delighted to get their seven-month-old cockapoo Patch a much-needed trim on Monday as dog groomers re-opened.
It was the couple’s first trip outside since the lockdown came into force in March.
“Patch’s coat was so thick and curly it was like a blanket, a thermal blanket,” said Mr Campton.
Husband and wife Chris and Stacey Hughes, who own Ruff Cuts groomers in east Belfast, now hardly have a booking slot free through to September.
Mr Hughes said: “We’re one of the lucky ones – dogs always need to be groomed, so there’s no issue with us getting business again.”
At the Mary Peters Track in Belfast, one of Ireland’s top Olympic runners donned racing spikes again for the first time in weeks.
Kerry O’Flaherty, 38, from Newcastle in Co Down, said: “It is great to get back here and get the spikes on and get a good run on the track surface.”