NI’s Covid pathway: Warning adaptions will be needed for ‘some time’

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has warned the Covid-19 pathway out of restrictions published today “does not seek to take us back to where we were before the pandemic”.

“There will be some adaptions in our lives. That will be the case for a number of sectors for some time to come,” she told MLAs today as she unveiled the Executive’s plan for easing lockdown restrictions.

Education has been listed as a key sector to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

However, enjoying live music in a bar with friends is still likely to be a while off, listed as one of the final stages.

The document identifies nine “pathways”:

  • Hospitality;
  • Home and Community;
  • Culture, Heritage and Entertainment;
  • Education and young people;
  • Sport and Leisure Facilities;
  • Worship and Ceremonies;
  • Travel and Tourism;
  • Work; and
  • Retail and Services.

“Each step must be informed by the impact of the last relaxation on community transmission and the R number,” a spokesperson explained.

“That’s why we believe a careful approach, taking one small step at a time and reviewing the impacts, is the best and safest way to move forward.

“While we understand that people want certainty, we cannot be bound by dates that would only serve to give people false hope.

“A rigorous monitor, review and implementation system has been developed to assess the impact of each phase of the relaxations and identify possible next actions.”

Reopening hospitality

By the end of the ‘Cautious First Steps’ phase (Stage 2), the 11:00pm curfew will be lifted on takeaways, premises where alcohol cannot be consumed – for example, cafes and coffeeshops – will be allowed to open with table service for groups of six people from two households.

Stage 3 will allow premises where alcohol can be consumed to reopen but will exclude ‘wet pubs’.

The same rules as above apply – table service only for groups of six people from two households.

You’ll finally be able to get a pint in a bar at Stage 4. Although it will be table service only for groups of six people from two households.

At this stage, there will also be a limited relaxation of entertainment restrictions. Nightclubs and live music, however, will have to wait for Stage 5.

‘No major changes expected before Easter’

It’s important to note there are no dates but a review date on March 16. “We don’t expect there to be any major change before Easter,” Michelle O’Neill warns.

Review dates have been set every four weeks for March 16, April 15, May 13, June 10.

However, it’s worth noting each of the nine sectors will move through the phases at their own pace, so some may reopen sooner than others.

“These should not be viewed as dates on which we will move to lift certain restrictions; rather, they are appropriate dates that have been identified to examine all relevant indicators,” O’Neill added.