THE easing of pandemic restrictions has been heralded as a ‘landmark day’ by First Minister Arlene Foster.
She said: “This is a landmark day for Northern Ireland as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery.
“I am pleased and proud that through our collective efforts we have reached a point where we have established a good level of control over the virus.
“We are now entering brighter and better times.
“This balanced package of relaxations will restore those familiar aspects of everyday life that have been missed dearly.
“I urge everyone to stay with us and keep following the health advice so that we can continue with our plans to more fully open up our society over coming weeks.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Today, the light at the end of the tunnel has just got a little bit brighter.
“This is a day of positive progress. We have agreed a significant package of easements which will make a fundamental difference to people’s lives and wellbeing.
“The restrictions have been a necessary response to the pandemic, to suppress the virus and save lives.
“But they have taken their toll on people right across our society. I’m delighted that we are now in a position to move forward, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the public and the success of our vaccination programme.
“We can all take comfort from this progress and look forward to doing the things that are important to us while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible.”
The next formal review of the Coronavirus regulations under the Pathway out of Restrictions will be carried out on May 13, 2021.
Commenting on the Executive’s decisions on easing Covid-19 restrictions, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I very much welcome the fact that Ministers have reached agreement around proposals brought to today’s meeting by The Executive Office.
“We are moving in the right direction and it’s important to bring optimism and certainty to this improving picture.
“Every one of us has a part to play in maintaining progress – by getting vaccinated when our turn comes and by sticking with the actions that have served us well for the past year – including social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands. It’s also vital to remember that outdoor settings are significantly safer than indoors.
“As we look forward to a better summer, we must not lose sight of the fact that the virus is still a threat. The more we increase vaccination uptake rate, the more we strengthen our defences.
“The Executive’s phased and gradual approach to easing restrictions is the right one. Opening everything up at the same time would not be the responsible way forward. We must not jeopardise the progress we have made.”
TUV leader and North Antrim Assembly Member Jim Allister said: “After keeping children out of the schools and business owners and customers out of stores for much longer than justifiable today’s movement is welcome in so far as it goes.
“Public patience went a long time ago. I have no doubt that the large volume of correspondence demanding to know why the public were still being denied their fundamental rights to go about their lives and attempt to save their businesses played a huge part in today’s announcement.
“With the success of our vaccination program and the small number of people in hospital due to the virus keeping the population in lockdown is indefensible, particularly as people see the restrictions easing with much greater speed on the mainland.
“The obvious danger to Northern Ireland going forward comes from Republic which is tied to the EU’s failing vaccination policy.
“That failure should not, however, be allowed to be used as an excuse to keep businesses in lockdown in this part of the UK. Lockdown is an economic wrecking ball and the sooner we can put it behind us the better.”
The Executive has today agreed a package of relaxations to the current Coronavirus Health Regulations.
From April 23:
Resumption of driving instruction and theory tests;
Driving testing can resume;
Re-opening of close contact services including training;
Re-opening of outdoor visitor attractions including outdoor activity centres;
Resumption of Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EATL) on an indoor and outdoor basis in gatherings of up to 30 people;
Outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated will be extended to include squad training;
Competitive outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated, with participant numbers not exceeding 100 and no spectators permitted can return and
Static band practice/rehearsal will be permitted in agreed outdoor locations.
From 30 April:
Increase the numbers permitted to gather in Domestic Setting Outdoors – to 15 people from no more than 3 households;
Reopen all of retail;
Reopen and permit overnight stays in self-contained tourist accommodation for one household only;
Reopen unlicensed premises, outdoors only with a maximum of 6 people from 2 households per table and contact details recorded;
Reopen licensed premises, including social clubs, outdoors only, limited to 6 people from no more than 2 households and contact details recorded;
Remove the curfew on takeaways;
Remove the curfew on off licences; and
Permit individual activities in gyms, swimming pools and other large venues – including with a carer and to allow 1-2-1 training/coaching with social distancing.
An indicative date of May 24 for:
Reopening unlicensed and licensed premises indoors with mitigations;
Reopening the remainder of Tourist accommodation;
Allowing visits indoors in domestic settings;
Reopening indoor visitor attractions; and
Resume indoor group exercise and training in numbers limited to suit the venue.