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Northern Ireland has presented a cautious plan to ease its nine-week-old lockdown, which is expected to keep the region’s non-essential outlets, drink-focused pubs and leisure industries closed longer than those in England.
In a 16-page position paper released Tuesday evening, the Stormont government noted that the first easing will focus on families and outdoor activities and places “where effective mitigation measures can be implemented and to practice social distancing ”.
Schools are scheduled to reopen in two phases, March 8 and March 22, with the first four-week review of the potential easing falling in between on March 15.
“We don’t expect the current situation to change significantly before Easter,” the document said. If there is no significant change before Easter, which falls on April 4, the first detente proper will probably come after the second review, on April 15.
If this review recommends that the North move to phase two of its plan, then retailers could offer click-and-collect services, public transportation capacity would be increased, some church services could resume, and outdoor attractions could reopen.
The next review, on May 13, could take Northern Ireland to phase three, when non-essential trade could resume, with the opening of recreation centers, swimming pools, hotels, guest houses and of guest rooms.
Damp pubs – which serve alcohol but not major meals – are part of the reopening of phase four, which also includes a wider relaunch of the hotel and hospitality industry, a limited number of spectators during outdoor and indoor sporting events, reopening of cinemas, and outdoor events with limited numbers.
England’s four-point plan allows non-essential commerce to reopen as of April 12, as well as self-contained leisure centers and vacation rentals. Pubs will also be able to serve alcohol outside without a meal.
Both countries stress that progress on plans depends on the trajectory of the pandemic.
The latest data from the ONS shows that Northern Ireland has a lower incidence of Covid-19 than England, but a higher prevalence than Wales and Scotland. The percentage of the estimated population infected with the coronavirus is declining in all four countries.