Northern Ireland has laid out a cautious plan for easing its nine-week-old lockdown that is likely to keep the region’s non-essential retail outlets, drink-focused pubs and leisure industries shuttered for longer than those in England.
In a 16-page summary document published Tuesday evening, the Stormont government stressed that the earliest easing would focus on families and outdoor activities and venues “where it is possible to implement effective mitigations and practice social distancing”.
Schools are due to reopen in two phases, on March 8 and March 22, with the first four-weekly review of potential easing falling in between the two, on March 15.
“We do not expect the current picture to change significantly before Easter,” the document said. If there is no significant change before Easter, which falls on April 4, the first proper relaxation is likely to come after the second review, on April 15.
If that review recommends the North move to phase two of its plan, retailers could then offer click and collect services, public transport capacity would be increased, some church services could resume and outdoor attractions could re-open.
The next review, on May 13, could bring Northern Ireland to phase three, when non-essential retail could resume, along with the opening of leisure centres, swimming pools, hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs.
Wet pubs — which serve alcohol but not significant meals — are part of phase four’s re-opening, which also includes a broader relaunch of the hotel and hospitality sector, a limited number of spectators at outdoor and indoor sporting events, the reopening of cinemas, and outdoor events with limited numbers.
England’s four point plan allows for non-essential retail to reopen as early as April 12, along with leisure centres and self-contained holiday lets. Pubs will also be able to serve alcohol outside, without a meal.
Both countries stress that progress along the plans depends on the trajectory of the pandemic.
The latest ONS data show Northern Ireland has a lower Covid-19 incidence than England, but a higher prevalence than both Wales and Scotland. The percentage of the population estimated to be infected with coronavirus is falling in all four countries.