NORTHERN Ireland's moves out of lockdown are to be accelerated with pubs and restaurants expected to be trading by July 20 - at the latest.
And all non-contact retail could reopen within a week as the fast-tracking of our return to normality from coronavirus mirrors that of moves announced by the Irish government.
A meeting of the Stormont Executive tomorrow will see DUP Economy Minister Diane Dodds argue for a reduction in the current two-metre social distancing rule to boost business.
She will also ask Health Minister Robin Swann to produce a paper detailing the latest medical advice around reopening shops.
Similar plans regarding restaurants and pubs will also be discussed after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said bars serving food in the south can welcome the public again from June 29.
Ministers here are determined to avoid a 'booze tourist' scenario where people from Northern Ireland travel across the border in significant numbers because our own pubs are shut. At present only some like the Morning Star in Belfast city centre are serving takeaway pints but publicans across the country can't wait to reopen their doors.
Local hotels have been given the green light to reopen on July 20, with Stormont insiders saying that is now a likely date for bars and restaurants to do the same, if not even sooner.
Other topics on Monday's Executive meeting agenda include allowing indoor visits to different households, a rise in outdoor gathering numbers, and the resumption of some team sports.
The increased speed in which we move out of lockdown has been bolstered by a week-on-week drop in recorded Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday saw one new death and 14 new positive test results - the highest daily confirmed infection rate since May 29.
However, the average number of deaths per day over the past week is one, while the average number of new infections is eight. There are currently 10 patients with Covid-19 on an intensive care unit bed.
Since the pandemic claimed its first life in March a total of 537 people have died and 4,776 have caught the virus.
Executive sources say recent low numbers have played a huge role in moves to take Northern Ireland out of lockdown more quickly.
They also revealed that the latest scientific advice puts the R rate of Covid-19 infection here below 1 - a key rating as any figure above this means the disease is spreading exponentially.
"Leo Varadkar's decision to allow bars in the south serving food to reopen on June 29 will have a significant effect on changes made here," said a Stormont insider last night.
"There will be talk around that and reducing the two-metre social distancing rule at the Executive meeting tomorrow, although that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
"Health officials will also be asked to produce a paper around the reopening of all shops. It is important that we are not out of step with the south on the lifting of lockdown measures because that could create major problems, especially in border areas."
Tomorrow large non-essential stores like car showrooms and those in retail parks stocking household electrical appliances, computer equipment, mobile phones and furniture will be able to reopen their doors here. Those in indoor shopping centres can't as yet.
As the Executive prepares to meet tomorrow, the owners of several of Northern Ireland's top restaurants pleaded with ministers to give them a firm reopening date amid fears they are being left in limbo.
Naz Din, who runs the upmarket Nu Delhi and Spice Indian restaurants in Belfast and Templepatrick, said: "We need to have a date for reopening in place. One of the biggest reasons for this is restarting supplies. We also need to get things back in order with our staff.
"The other big problem we face is the lack of guidelines for how things will look when we reopen. We are going to have to change our restaurants around to put screens in place, and other things that will cost a lot of money.
"If we are given a date to re-open just a few days before then how are we going to be able to prepare properly?"
Naz is hugely supportive of calls for the current two-metre rule to be reduced to one metre to aid the economy. This would allow restaurant owners whose businesses have been decimated by Covid-19 to bring more customers through the doors.
New research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that keeping one metre apart reduces the risk of infection by 80%.
Several Nordic countries and Austria adopt this recommendation, whereas in the UK, Ireland and the US it remains at two metres.
Another big supporter of the reduction in the two metre rule is chef Nico Simeone, who owns the award-winning Six By Nico restaurant in Belfast.
He said: "Reopening plans are going to need to be bespoke.
"Our capacity would be reduced substantially with the two metre distance guidance, however we would welcome any reviews to reduce this to one metre as long as it continues to ensure safety at all times."
Like all other Northern Irish restaurant owners, Nico wants the Executive to set a hospitality reopening date. He added: "It would be useful for our team, our customers and the business communities across Belfast if the Assembly could be a little more open about what the framework for re-opening will or should be."
His calls have been backed by Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neill who believes the easing of lockdown measures in the south should be mirrored in Northern Ireland.
He said: "The Executive needs to assess the situation and come to a swift decision as we've now gone through three months of pain.
"Acting now will go some way to help save our summer, but it will take four to five weeks for the supply chain to kick into action again and have everything prepared for trading.
"We need to be set back on some sort of even keel. We've no time to lose.
"A quick decision early this week could save many jobs and businesses in the hospitality sector."