A phased five-stage plan for slowly moving out of lockdown has been published by the Executive today.
The document sets out the approach the Executive will take when deciding how to ease restrictions in the future.
Dates for the implementation of the various steps have not been outlined, although some reports suggest that step five miht not take place for several months.
In Step One, those unable to work from home will be encouraged to return to work on a phased basis, large outdoor retail premises such as garden centres will be allowed to open and groups of four to six people who do not share a household will be permitted to meet outdoors.
Step one will also see the re-opening of churches for private prayer and the opening of outdoor spaces and public sports amenities, including walking, running, cycling, golf, tennis and some water activities.
In Step two, groups of up to 10 can meet outdoors and non-fiood retail can open where numbers are limited with social distancing.
There will be the opportunity for team sports training on a non-contact basis to resume on a small group basis, selected libraries will re-open with restricted services, as well as open-air museums.
There will be a phased return to office and onsite working subject to risk asessment in phase three, but work that can be done from home should still be done from according to the plan.
Step three will also see schools expanding provision for priority groups on a part-time basis, using a combination of in-school and remote learning, while there will be a re-opening of museums, galleries and libraries and gatherings that can accomodate up to 30 people.
Hairdressers, fitness studios, tattoo and piercing parlours will be able to re-open in step four, when there will be reudcing and staggering demand for public transport at peak times through continued home working and staggered start times for businesses.
At this stage, leisure centres and other indoor leisure facilities will be able to re-open, while outdoor concerts will resume on a restricted basis.
Then, the final step, step five, will see everyone able to work subject to mitigations, although remote working will still be strongly encouraged.
Hospitality and retail premises will open subject to a risk assessment, there will be a resumption of close physical contact sports, a return to competitive sport and full use of sporting facilities.
Spectators will be able to attend live events on a estricted basis and nightclubs and concerts can open also a limited basis.
In making decisions, the Executive says it will consider three key criteria: The most up-to-date scientific evidence; the ability of the health service to cope; and the wider impacts on our health, society and the economy.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We recognise how difficult the current restrictions are. But those restrictions, and the determined people of Northern Ireland who have adhered to them, have saved lives and continue to do so.
“We don’t want to keep any restriction in place any longer than we have to, but in relaxing any measure we must be cognisant of the potential effects in the transmission of the virus and our ability to save lives.
“The Executive’s recovery strategy sets out a pathway for us to emerge from lockdown in the safest way possible. This will require a series of judgements and decisions as we move forward. These decisions will be evidence based, taking account of our unique circumstances here in Northern Ireland.
“As we embark on our phased recovery, we will remain focused on the health and wellbeing of our population; the impacts on our society; and our economy as a whole. Above all else, our priority will be saving lives.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We don’t underestimate the impact that the severe restrictions have had on everyone across our society. While they are still absolutely necessary, it is important that we give people hope for the future.
“Today we have set out our pathway for future recovery which gives an indication of how the restrictions on different aspects of life may be eased at various stages.
“The incremental five-step approach reflects the risk-based judgements we will make at each stage. These decisions will be evidenced by medical and scientific advice and benchmarked against our guiding principles and international best practice.
“The Executive’s strategy is not time bound because it’s vital that we retain the flexibility needed to respond to the complex emerging situation based on all relevant evidence.
“Our recovery from Coronavirus will require a real partnership effort with the community. We are appealing to the public to please be patient. Keep adhering to the restrictions, follow the public health advice and stay at home. We will keep you updated every step of the way when we are in a position to slowly and carefully move out of lockdown.”
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