Hospitality reopening fast-tracked in NI as raft of lockdown relaxations agreed

The reopening of Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality sectors have been fast-tracked as part of a series of lockdown relaxations agreed by Stormont ministers.

The powersharing executive has signed off on a plan with three key relaxation dates, April 23, April 30 and May 24.

After lengthy discussions through Thursday ministers brought forward a series of reopening dates they had been initially considering.

With Northern Ireland having marked one million Covid-19 vaccines by last weekend and with other key health and scientific indicators going in the right direction, ministers have agreed the most significant steps out of lockdown to date.

Speaking in the Assembly, First Minister Arlene Foster said, "This is a landmark day for Northern Ireland as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery.

"I am pleased and proud that through our collective efforts we have reached a point where we have established a good level of control over the virus.

"This balanced package of relaxations will restore those familiar aspects of everyday life that have been missed dearly," Mrs Foster said.

"I urge everyone to stay with us and keep following the health advice so that we can continue with our plans to more fully open up our society over coming weeks."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Today, the light at the end of the tunnel has just got a little bit brighter.

"This is a day of positive progress. We have agreed a significant package of easements which will make a fundamental difference to people's lives and wellbeing.

"The restrictions have been a necessary response to the pandemic, to suppress the virus and save lives.

"But they have taken their toll on people right across our society. I'm delighted that we are now in a position to move forward, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the public and the success of our vaccination programme.

"We can all take comfort from this progress and look forward to doing the things that are important to us while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible."

Commenting on the Executive’s decisions on easing Covid-19 restrictions, Health Minister Robin Swann said he very much welcomed the agreement made by Ministers.

Health Minister Robin Swann

“We are moving in the right direction and it’s important to bring optimism and certainty to this improving picture," he said. “The Executive’s phased and gradual approach to easing restrictions is the right one. Opening everything up at the same time would not be the responsible way forward. We must not jeopardise the progress we have made.”

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