No firm dates in NI’s five-point plan for exiting coronavirus lockdown

Northern Ireland has published its roadmap out of lockdown, and is allowing groups of four to six people, who do not share a household, to meet outdoors.

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

It comes as 438 people have died in Northern Ireland with Covid-19 and 4,149 people have tested positive.

Although overall case numbers are continuing to rise, it is at a slower rate than before.

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.

  • ITV News Reporter Mark Mallett explains how the Northern Ireland easing of lockdown is hybrid

The five-point plan

  • 1st step - includes groups of four to six people who are not from the same household being able to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing, drive-through church services, churches opening for private prayer, opening of outdoor spaces and public sport amenities, drive-through cinemas and more sports, including some water activities, golf and tennis.

  • 2nd step - will see groups of 10 being able to meet outdoors, team sports training on a non-contact basis in small groups, re-opening 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.

  • 3rd step - will see groups of up to 30 being able to gather outside, re-opening of more libraries as well as museums and galleries, concert and theatre rehearsals resuming and larger indoor gatherings.

  • 4th step - is set to see socially distanced church services, resumption of competitive sport behind closed doors or with a limited number of spectators, leisure centres re-opening and outdoor concerts resuming on a restricted basis.

  • 5th step - will include the resumption of close physical contact sports, return of competitive sport, spectators at live events on a restricted basis as well as the re-opening of nightclubs and concerts on a limited basis.

Stormont leaders have outlined the steps in the coronavirus recovery plan. Credit: PA

Significantly, Stormont’s exit plan does include projected milestone dates for when the region could move from one step to the next.

First Minister Arlene Foster has told the Northern Ireland Assembly that “now is not the time to lift restrictions”.

“We decided collectively that the time is not right for making major steps,” she said.

“We must continue to avoid the health service being overwhelmed. Covid-19 spreads in a way which isn’t visible in real time. A person who catches it today may not have symptoms immediately… so things we do today as citizens have an impact in the near future.

“And if restrictions are lifted too soon, or in a way that we cannot control, we will see the negative results of that in the days and weeks ahead.”

Arlene Foster and Minister Michelle O’Neill presented the plan to the Assembly. Credit: PA

The decision on when to make changes to the restrictions will be guided primarily by the medical and scientific evidence.

That includes the infection rate (RO) level and the capacity within hospitals dealing with coronavirus.

Ministers are seeking to prioritise measures that create the greatest societal benefit with the lowest infection risk.

The executive is legally obliged to review the current lockdown regulations every three weeks, but the public will be cautioned not to expect that each three-week cycle will result in a decision to move to another phase.

The next three-weekly review of the restrictions is due at the end of May.

Mrs Foster said she realises some will be disappointed that no dates have been set for the steps of the plan.

“Many will want answers immediately around specific scenarios that impact them most directly,” she told the 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.”

Ministers will meet later in the week to discuss the re-opening of garden centres. Credit: PA

It is anticipated that some reviews will not bring any change to the regulations, and some could even see the region return to an earlier phase in the plan.

Ministers have said some changes could also been made in the middle of three-week cycles.

People will be told to expect the journey to recovery to be gradual and incremental.

Step one could be given the green light at the end of the month, the end of the current three-week extension.

However, ministers are expected to move on a small number of the current measures before then.

Ministers will meet again later in the week to consider allowing people to exercise more than once a day, and the reopening of garden centres and churches for the purpose of solitary prayer.