NI Executive sets out timetable for reopening of all schools by April 12th

First Minister announces ‘cautious’ easing of lockdown restrictions

Some primary school pupils have been back in class in Northern Ireland since March 8th. File photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Some primary school pupils have been back in class in Northern Ireland since March 8th. File photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed the easing of some lockdown restrictions and has announced a timetable for the reopening of all schools in Northern Ireland.

The Executive, which met on Tuesday, agreed to a proposal from DUP Minister of Education Peter Weir that all primary pupils would return to school from Monday, with all second-level students going back on April 12th, after the Easter holidays. Some younger primary pupils already are back in class.

It also decided that from April 1st up to six people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden, while 10 people from no more than two households can participate in outdoor sporting activities.

Golf and tennis courses are to reopen although clubhouses will remain closed, apart from toilet facilities. Click-and-collect purchases will be allowed from garden centres and plant nurseries.

From April 12th up to 10 people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden. Click and collect will be permitted at all non-essential retail outlets. Outdoor sports training will also resume for clubs affiliated with recognised governing bodies from that date, with no more than 15 participants permitted in one training group. Indoor club facilities, apart from toilets, will remain closed.

The measures are subject to final ratification by the Executive sometime in the week before April 12th.

First Minister Arlene Foster, in announcing the relaxations, said that from April 12th the focus would move from a “stay at home” exhortation to “stronger promotion of the stay-local and work-from-home messages”.

Ms Foster said the Executive’s approach to the exiting restrictions was to be “cautious but optimistic”. She said it involved “small steps . . . with time built in to help us take stock of the impact on the ground”.

It also involved “time to reflect, analyse the data and structure the next steps” away from the lockdown, she added.

In advance of St Patrick’s Day, Ms Foster particularly urged young people not to socialise outside their families and to follow the Covid-19 rules.

Easter services

She also referred to Easter and Passover and said she and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill recently met the leaders of the four main churches. They gave no commitments about Easter services but indicated that they would consider the matter.

“We noted in our discussion the desire of the churches to work towards a return to in-person services in time for Easter and we acknowledge the risk involved and the mitigations required by the churches,” Ms Foster said.

“Some places of worship will find it easier to continue with online services, of course. We know this will be taken forward carefully and we have been grateful to leaders across all faiths who have worked closely with us on a voluntary basis.”

Ms O’Neill welcomed the proposed easing of restrictions, which she said presented “a gradual and a safe way out of the restrictions”.

“It’s a day of hope for young people, for families, for sports and indeed for businesses,” she said.

The North’s health department on Tuesday reported one more Covid-19 death, taking the Northern Ireland death toll to 2,100. There were 164 new cases confirmed, bringing the total to 115,181.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 96 per cent, with 176 patients receiving Covid-19 treatment including 18 people in intensive care and 14 on ventilators.