Coronavirus live news: Northern Ireland lockdown easing to be unveiled; Olympics ‘could still be cancelled’

The different coronavirus restrictions put in place, and the different pace of removing them, have perhaps been one of the most visible examples of how devolution works within the UK for years. In Northern Ireland today it is expected that we will get an announcement of a further easing of measures, and the timing for them.

David Young reports for PA that when Northern Ireland’s exit blueprint was first published at the start of March, the administration faced criticism for not including any indicative reopening dates. At the time, ministers insisted the health picture was too volatile to offer up provisional dates that ultimately might have to be scrapped.

The powersharing executive meets later today, and First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann have all already signalled the likelihood of a number of reopening dates being outlined.

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 made clear they are now in a position where indicative dates can be provided. On Wednesday Swann said the “scales are tipping” in favour of accelerating the pace of lockdown exit.

Foster had already expressed hope opening dates for close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, and non-essential retail will be announced after today’s meeting. The hospitality sector is also hopeful that it might get some good news, particularly in respect of outdoor trading.

Northern Ireland took some further gradual steps out of lockdown on Monday.

The remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, returned to schools while a limited number of outdoor-focused retail outlets, such as garden centres and car dealerships, reopened. The “stay-at-home” messaging was also replaced with “stay local” advice.

Other relaxations on Monday saw the number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, increase from six to 10. Click-and-collect services for non-essential retail also resumed. Outdoor sports training was allowed for recognised clubs, in groups of up to 15, provided all indoor facilities except toilets remain closed.

The number of people allowed to attend marriage and civil partnership ceremonies also increased, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.


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