Northern Ireland unveils five-point plan for exiting coronavirus lockdown

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Groups of four to six people who do not share a household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing in one of the first steps in Northern Ireland’s road map out of lockdown.

A five-point plan with no firm dates has been published for exiting coronavirus restrictions.

Those unable to work from home will be encouraged to return to work on a phased basis in another early shift if the reproductive rate at which the virus is spread continues to decline below one.

Large outdoor-based retailers such as garden centres will also be permitted to reopen in the first step as life edges its way back towards normality.

The decision on when to make changes will be guided primarily by the medical and scientific evidence and the NHS’s capacity to cope.

There is flexibility for different parts of the economy such as return to schooling and increased use of public transport to move at different paces.

Drive-through church services will be available and churches will open for private prayer at an early stage.

Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities will also be included in the first step of reopening.

Large indoor gatherings, nightclubs, concerts, close physical contact sports, restaurants, cafes, pubs and early years education will be included in the final, step five, relaxation.

According to the blueprint, the second step will see groups of 10 being able to meet outdoors, team sports training allowed on a non-contact basis in small groups, the reopening of some libraries and open-air museums, as well as indoor activities involving limited contact of less than 10 minutes and with two to four people.

The third step will see groups of up to 30 being able to gather outside, the reopening of more libraries, as well as museums and galleries, concert and theatre rehearsals resuming and larger indoor gatherings.

The fourth step will see socially distanced church services, the resumption of competitive sport behind closed doors or with a limited number of spectators, leisure centres reopening and outdoor concerts resuming on a restricted basis.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster told the Northern Ireland Assembly: “Our road map won’t answer every query – it provides an indication, which people can use in looking ahead and anticipating how the next weeks and months might evolve.”

The Stormont Executive said that, as of May 10, 33,440 individuals in the region had been tested for Covid-19, with 4,149 laboratory-confirmed cases and 438 reported deaths, adding that although overall case numbers are continuing to rise, it is at a slower rate than before.

It also notes a “gradual decline” in both hospital admissions and intensive care unit occupancy, reflecting a reduction in transmission of the virus and progression of the epidemic.

The First Minister added: “Our restrictions have worked and they have and are saving lives.

“We are asking a lot of our people, and we appreciate that the restrictions have health and well being consequences too.

“We want everyone to be able to go out, visit relatives, socialise and enjoy everything this place has to offer. We need to get people back to work where safe to do so. We will get there. It will take time, but we will get there.”

The regulations will continue to be reviewed within every three-week period. There may be reviews where no change is warranted and others when more change is possible.

Each process of review should not be read as being linked to the next step of the relaxations, Stormont’s road map said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the Assembly: “We are appealing to the public to please be patient.

“The restrictions remain in place at this time, because it is necessary and because it is thankfully working.

“Our biggest threat in the fight against Covid-19 is complacency.

“Until a vaccine is found it means co-existing with the virus and therefore a radical change to how we live our daily lives for some time.

“Life as we know it has changed, we will have to continue to adjust.”

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