The Northern Ireland Executive today announced the slight rollback of coronavirus restrictions will begin this Monday, May 18.

Northern Ireland is set to begin lifting its coronavirus restrictions from Monday, May 18, the same day as the Republic of Ireland.

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On May 12, the Northern Ireland Executive published their five-phased plan to reopen the region and today announced that the first relaxations will commence this Monday, May 18.

In a press briefing on May 14, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill revealed that from Monday, May 18, garden centers can reopen as long as social distancing is adhered to, recycling centers can be open and trips to such centers with household waste will now be considered an appropriate reason to travel, and marriage ceremonies where one or both parties are terminally ill can proceed.

Foster said: “We are considering the lifting of other restrictions as we progress through our five-point plan and we hope to unveil more about the implementation of stage one on Monday.

“However, it is important that everyone understands the process of relaxing restrictions will be incremental and there won’t be a dramatic shift in relation to the lifting of restrictions.”

Both Foster and O'Neill said the progression of the phases outlined in the document published on May 12 will be dictated by medical and health advice.

You can watch the entire press conference from May 14 here:

While the Republic of Ireland has attached dates to their five-phase roadmap, dates which authorities have reiterated can and will be changed in accordance with public health guidance, the phases laid out by the Northern Ireland Executive do not have dates attached to them.

O’Neill said during today's briefing: “You know that we deliberately didn’t set any dates or attach any time scales to our plan because that gives us the flexibility to be agile and to respond in the best way that we can at any point in time.

“That flexibility gives us the ability to move through the various stages when the time is right for us to do.”

Both Foster and O’Neill said that in an effort to remain transparent, the Executive today published their decision-making matrix that they use to inform judgments.

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Northern Ireland’s plans for reopening

The below was published on Tuesday, May 12 by the Northern Ireland Executive. The document says: “Steps do not necessarily apply at the same time in different sectors – e.g. Step 1 for work, may apply at a different time than Step 1 for retail, reflecting the complexity and adaptability of each environment,” the document states.

Similar to the Republic of Ireland’s roadmap, the phased plan for Northern Ireland to reopen is divided into categories: work; retail; education; travel; family & community; and sport, cultural, & leisure activities.

Here are the phases of progress for each category:

Work

Current Position: Work permitted subject to following legal requirements and best practice arrangements. Executive has committed to enhancing messaging around what is permissible in terms of work. Remote working is default position.

Step 1 - 2: Encouragement to those unable to work from home to return to workplace on phased basis subject to legal requirements and best practice arrangements being in place.

Step 3 - 4: Phased return to office and onsite working subject to risk assessment. Work that can be done from home should be done from home.

Step 5: All able to return to work subject to mitigations. Remote working still strongly encouraged and maintained where possible

Retail

Current Position: Food and other permitted retail activity subject to following requirements. Many retailers only able to function using takeaway/ collection/delivery

Step 1: Large outdoor based retail can open (eg garden centres - though associated cafes and restaurants only able to offer takeaway/collection). 

Step 2 - 3: Non-food retail can open where numbers limited and social distancing and other mitigating measures in place as per risk assessment.

Step 4: Other ‘contact’ retail (hairdressers, fitness studios, tattoo/piercing) can open subject to mitigations following risk assessment.

Step 5: Hospitality retail (restaurants, cafes, pubs) can open subject to risk assessment, on a limited basis to start with.

Education

Current Position: Schools are closed except to accommodate vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. Measures are in place to support remote learning and to provide outreach services to vulnerable children and special needs pupils.

Step 1 - 2: Public transport continues to operate but will face challenges in meeting increased demand, especially on peak services, as social distancing requirements remain in place. People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible. 

Step 3 - 4: Public transport continues to operate, but subject to ongoing risk assessment. Demand on peak services, particularly within urban areas likely to increase. Reducing and staggering demand through continued home working and staggered start times for businesses would assist as social distancing requirements remain in place. People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible.

Step 5: Public transport operating a full service but subject to ongoing risk assessment. Message about walking and cycling continues to be reinforced.

Travel

Current Position: Public transport will operate with limited capacity to allow for social distancing. Passengers recommended to wear face coverings and to avoid travel on busy routes/during busy periods. Enhanced cleaning regimes in place and staff on buses and trains issued with PPE in line with PHA guidance. People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible. 

Step 1 - 2: Public transport continues to operate but will face challenges in meeting increased demand, especially on peak services, as social distancing requirements remain in place. People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible. 

Step 3 - 4: Public transport continues to operate, but subject to ongoing risk assessment. Demand on peak services, particularly within urban areas likely to increase. Reducing and staggering demand through continued home working and staggered start times for businesses would assist as social distancing requirements remain in place. People to be encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible.

Step 5: Public transport operating a full service but subject to ongoing risk assessment. Message about walking and cycling continues to be reinforced.

Family and Community

Current Position: Contact should be within own household.

Step 1: Groups of 4 – 6 people who do not share a household can meet outdoors maintaining social distancing. With the exception of people who are shielding, visits to immediate family allowed indoors where social distancing is possible. Drive through church services and churches open for private prayer with appropriate social distancing and cleaning of shared contact hard surfaces. 

Step 2: Groups of up to 10 can meet outdoors.

Step 3: Gatherings can accommodate up to 30 people while maintaining social distancing.

Step 4: A wider range of gatherings permitted including church services subject to social distancing and other suitable mitigations, such as cleaning of hard surfaces.

Step 5: Can meet in extended groups subject to social distancing or other suitable mitigations.  

Sport, Cultural, and leisure activities

Current Position: Exercise permitted.

Step 1: Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities to open. Can undertake for example, walking, running, cycling, some water activities, golf, tennis. Drive through cinema

Step 2: Resumption of, for example, team sports training on a non-contact basis in small groups. Selected libraries open, restricted services. Open air museums re-open.

Step 3: Resumption of, for example, team sports training on a non-contact basis. Museums and galleries open. Libraries open. Concert and theatre rehearsals resume.

Step 4: Resumption of, for example, competitive sport ‘behind closed doors’ or with limitations on the number of spectators. Leisure centres and other indoor leisure facilities open. Outdoor concerts on restricted basis.

Step 5: Resumption of close physical contact sports. Return to competitive sport and full use of sporting facilities. Spectators to attend live events on restricted basis. Nightclubs, concerts open on a limited basis

Read More: Coronavirus live updates

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