North on ‘pathway to recovery’ as timetable for easing restrictions published

Hairdressers, barbers to reopen in North from April 23rd and all shops from April 30th

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was a ‘landmark day’ for Northern Ireland. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was a ‘landmark day’ for Northern Ireland. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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Close-contact services including hairdressers and barbers are to reopen in the North from April 23rd, and all shops from April 30th, after Ministers agreed a significant easing of Covid-19 restrictions on Thursday.

Beer gardens and unlicensed cafes and restaurants can also reopen for outdoor service only from April 30th for a maximum of six people from two households per table.

The number of people allowed to meet outdoors will increase to a maximum of 15 people from no more than three households, and gyms and swimming pools will reopen on the same date.

An indicative reopening date of May 24th was also agreed for licensed and unlicensed indoor premises, tourist accommodation including hotels, and indoor visits to other homes.

The First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster of the DUP and Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, outlined details of the changes to the Assembly on Thursday evening following a meeting of the Northern Executive.

Ms Foster said it was a “landmark day” as Northern Ireland stepped forward “firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery” from Covid-19, but urged people to continue to follow public health advice and to get vaccinated.

All non-essential retail and services and most of the hospitality industry in the North have been closed since St Stephen’s Day.

Driving lessons

According to the measures agreed on Thursday, from April 23rd close-contact services and outdoor visitor attractions can reopen, and driving lessons and tests can resume, as can equine-assisted therapy.

Squad training for recognised clubs can resume, as can competitive outdoor sport, provided participant numbers do not exceed 100 and there are no spectators, and static band practice will be permitted in agreed outdoor locations.

From a week later, on April 30th, 15 people from no more than three households will be allowed to gather in domestic settings outdoors.

All retail will reopen, as will licensed and unlicensed premises for outdoor service only, limited to a maximum of six people from no more than two households.

Overnight stays in self-contained tourist accommodation will be permitted for members of one household only, and the 8pm curfew will be removed from takeaways and off-licenses.

Ratification

The indicative date of May 24th agreed by Ministers for other measures will be subject to ratification nearer the time, with the next review of the Covid-19 regulations scheduled for May 13th.

On Thursday, the North’s Department of Health recorded two new deaths with Covid-19, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,132. A further 159 people tested positive for the virus.

Close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be asked to take a PCR test within 48 hours of being identified as a close contact, whether or not they have symptoms, the department announced.

Meanwhile, the grand secretary of the Orange Order, the Rev Mervyn Gibson, told the BBC on Thursday he was hopeful of staging some form of parades to mark this year’s Twelfth of July.

“Depending on what the health advice is... there will be parades, I believe, on the streets of Northern Ireland this year to celebrate the Twelfth,” he said.

– Additional reporting: PA