‘Significant day’ as NI reopening dates expected

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image captionBusiness across Northern Ireland have been waiting on dates for full re-opening

Stormont ministers will be asked to approve the full reopening of NI retail outlets on 30 April, BBC News NI understands.

Close contact services such as hairdresser and beauty salons will reopen the week before.

Outdoor visitor attractions will also open that week, if the dates being proposed are agreed by the executive on Thursday.

Details will be outlined to assembly members at a special sitting.

BBC News NI understands that outdoor hospitality for pubs will have to wait until 10 May before being allowed to welcome back customers.

On 14 May, wedding receptions and post burial events in hospitality venues will be possible, but limited to 30 people.

Hairdressers and close contact services

Up to 15 people from three household can meet outdoors from that date.

On 23 April, it is proposed close contact services such as hairdressers will reopen, along with outdoor visitor attractions.

Driving tests will also resume on that date and we can expect a return of competitive sport.

Self-contained tourist accommodation will be allowed to reopen on 30 April.

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image captionNon-essential retail is likely to open on 30 April if proposals are agreed

Ministers propose allowing licensed and unlicensed premises to provide outdoor service with some restrictions on 10 May.

The curfew on takeaways and off-licence will also be lifted on that date and gyms will be allowed to reopen.

But the paper to be presented to ministers on Thursday also makes it clear there will be no return of indoor hospitality before the first of June.

It is understood that support payments for hospitality operators will continue while restrictions on indoor service remains meaning those payments will not stop on 10 May.

Key dates for reopening:

  • 23 April: Hairdressers, beauty salons, outdoor attractions
  • 30 April: All retail, self-contained tourist accommodation
  • 10 May: Outdoor dining, drinking and gyms
  • 14 May: Wedding guest receptions for 30 people allowed
  • Not before 1 June: Indoor drinking and dining

Politicians like announcing good news and Stormont ministers know this will be a hugely significant day for many people.

Having watched the relaxations already happening in England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland looks set to start catching up from next Friday.

Those in desperate need of a professional haircut will be relieved, while the reopening of shops the following week marks the beginning of the high street’s long road to recovery.

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These tough restrictions have been in place for more than 15 weeks – a long slog – and Health Minister Robin Swann said he recognised if more restrictions weren’t eased soon, compliance with public health advice could fall away and undo all the sacrifices made.

However, some businesses are unlikely to be impressed by the indicative timetable being proposed. Hospitality businesses in other parts of the UK have already reopened or will do so before the end of this month.

Ministers will face many questions about those differences when they confirm the changes in the assembly this afternoon.

Health Minister Robin Swann said on Wednesday that the time was right for the NI Executive to further ease restrictions, after some outdoor retail reopened on Monday.

At the weekly health press briefing on Wednesday, Mr Swann said the “scales are tipping” in favour of accelerating the process of relaxing restrictions.

He said giving indicative dates would offer people and businesses some greater optimism.

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionGarden centres were allowed to open again from Monday

He highlighted the reopening of hairdressers and barbers, and the possibility of people “getting back to their caravans earlier” than initially thought.

Northern Ireland’s stay-at-home order was lifted earlier this week after being in place for more than three months, as further Covid lockdown restrictions eased.

People have been told to “stay local” and continue to work from home where they can.

Mr Swann has warned that “Covid fatigue risks itself mutating into Covid despair”.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told politicians on Wednesday that Stormont ministers are set to agree a timetable for reopening society that will cover a number of months.

She said she hoped the executive would be “able to sign off on dates”.

What is currently open?

It was the last part of the UK to lift its stay-at-home rule, which came into effect in January, in a bid to suppress a large rise in cases of coronavirus.

Currently, ten people from two households can meet up in private gardens and non-essential shops can resume click-and-collect.

The limit on the number of people allowed to attend a wedding, civil partnership or funeral has also been removed.

Venues instead will again have to assess how many people they can safely accommodate in line with a risk assessment.

The rules allow a maximum of four people at a time to view a wedding venue, such as a hotel.

There were also further changes to the number of people allowed to play sport outdoors together from Monday, with groups of up to 15 people, including coaches, allowed to train together.

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image captionGerry Keating, store manager of the St Vincent de Paul charity shop on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, getting ready for business

The Department for Communities has said five-a-side football training can take place “if organised by a club affiliated to a recognised governing body and with the appropriate protocols and mitigations in place”.

From Monday, anyone who was shielding and who could not work from home was permitted to return to their workplace provided appropriate public safety measures are in place.

Further updates for those shielding are expected to be announced as part of a wider lifting of restrictions.

Northern Ireland has moved at a slower pace than other parts of the UK in easing its lockdown, which began on 26 December.

But ministers have said the virus has moved at a different rate and they want to ensure the lifting of restrictions is managed carefully so Northern Ireland does not have to re-enter lockdown.

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