A NEW plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown has been published by the Northern Ireland Executive and contains five phases based on health criteria, rather than a timetable.
First Minister Arlene Foster said she hoped to reach the final stage by December, but warned that ‘some businesses would not survive’.
In the meantime, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the UK scheme to pay workers on leave because of the lockdown will be extended until October, with official guidance to be issued before the end of May.
Mr Sunak confirmed that employees will continue to receive 80% of their monthly wages up to £2,500.
But he said the government will ask companies to ‘start sharing’ the cost of the scheme - which is costing around £14bn a month - from August.
Some 7.5 million workers are now covered by the scheme, up from 6.3 million last week, he said.
The Northern Ireland document, entitled Executive Approach to Decision-Making, is being debated by the Stormont Assembly after being unveiled by Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, with both appealing for patience.
In the first stage, groups of four to six people who do not share a household will be allowed to meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing.
Large outdoor-based retailers such as garden centres will be allowed to reopen in the first stage, with some relaxations being allowed for churches too.
There have been 438 Covid-19 related deaths in Northern Ireland, mainly in hospitals and not taking into account deaths in the community.
The R-value, or reproduction number, shows how many people will get infected for every one person who gets ill.
In Northern Ireland, the R-rate is sitting just below one, at 0.8-0.9, and the Executive has said it must remain at a low level before restrictions can begin to be lifted.
Measures will be reviewed again on May 28. A contact tracing programme, which aims to identify and alert people who have come into contact with a person infected with coronavirus, will be extended in Northern Ireland from May 18.
The full document can be found here: https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-executive-approach-decision-making
And steps are outlined as follows:
Encouragement to those unable to work from home to return to work on a phased basis
Large outdoor-based retail can open including garden centres, though associated cafes and restaurants can only offer takeaway or collection
Groups of four to six 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
Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities to open. For example, walking, running, cycling, some water activities, golf, tennis
Drive-through cinemas can open
Non-food retail can open where numbers are limited, with social distancing
Groups of up to 10 can meet outdoors
As demand increases on public transport within social distancing requirements, people encouraged to walk and cycle for short journeys where possible
Resumption of, for example, team sports training on a non-contact basis in small groups
Selected libraries reopen with restricted services
Open-air museums reopen
Phased return to office and onsite working subject to risk assessment. Work that can be done from home should still be done from home
Schools expand provision for priority groups on a part-time basis, using a combination of in-school and remote learning
Gatherings can accommodate up to 30 people while maintaining social distancing
Resumption of, for example, team sports training on a non-contact basis
Museums and galleries open
Concert and theatre rehearsals resume
Other ‘contact’ retail (hairdressers, fitness studios, tattoo and piercing parlours) can open subject to mitigations following risk assessment
Schools expand provision to accommodate all pupils on part-time basis with combination of in-school and remote learning
Reducing and staggering demand for public transport at peak times through continued home working and staggered start times for businesses
Wider range of gatherings permitted including church services subject to social distancing and other suitable mitigations, such as cleaning of hard surfaces
Resumption of 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
All able to return to work subject to mitigations. Remote working still strongly encouraged
Hospitality retail (restaurants, cafes, pubs) can open subject to risk assessment, initially on a limited basis
Expand early-year school provision to full-time basis
Public transport operating full service but subject to ongoing risk assessment
People can meet in extended groups subject to social distancing
Resumption of close physical contact sports
Return to competitive sport and full use of sporting facilities
Spectators can attend live events on restricted basis
Nightclubs, concerts open on a limited basis