Northern Ireland news

Hairdressers, non-essential retail and restaurants not serving alcohol could re-open by April 26

Proposals to re-open hairdressers and non-essential will be dicussed next week by Stormont ministers as part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions

HAIRDRESSERS and non-essential retail shops could re-open on April 26 if Stormont ministers green-light proposals next week.

Restaurants which do not serve alcohol could also operate outdoors from the same date contingent on the executive agreeing to ease Covid-19 restrictions.

While the north's roadmap out of lockdown is not date driven, a paper submitted by Economy Minister Diane Dodds sets out a timeline that will be discussed next Thursday.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill last night told The Irish News that "it's time to put dates" to the next phase of relaxing restrictions, given the progress of the vaccine rollout and dramatic drop in hospitalisations as well as cases.

There were no further coronavirus deaths reported by the Department of Health yesterday while a further 88 cases were confirmed.

There are 89 Covid hospital inpatients, of which 12 are in ICU.

Last weekend, the Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital was de-escalated with its remaining two Covid patients transferred to the Mater hospital.

Details of the economy paper were obtained by Belfast Live, which also included plans to re-open outdoor visitor attractions.

A number of lockdown measures will be eased from April 12, including the reopening of garden centres and car washes.

Contactless click-and-collect for all non-essential retail will also resume.

In England, next Monday will see the re-opening of non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and close contact services as well as hospitality venues serving food and drink outdoors.

Scotland and Wales are also ahead of the north, leading to criticism among the hospitality sector about Stormont's failure to provide "indicative dates" to allow them to plan around the re-opening of pubs and restaurants.

Ms O'Neill said she is hopeful that a timeline will be given next week.

"We have made fantastic progress with the vaccine roll out and all credit is due to those workers on the frontline delivering it to all. This progress along with the decline in cases, decline in hospitalisations etc indicate it's time to put dates to the next phases of lifting of restrictions," she said.

"I am hopeful that subject to executive agreement and public health advice we will be able to agree proposals at the executive on the 15th and make announcements accordingly.

"We must make sure our progress is safe and sustainable and keeps us moving in a positive direction."

Earlier this week, First Minister Arlene Foster said it was important to provide certainty to people.

"I think that what you will see coming out of the next executive are some timelines in relation to non-essential retail and close contact services," she said.

“We do of course recognise that we're still waiting on the global travel taskforce to hear what the outcome of that is.

“We're hoping that that's going to come before the end of the week.

“There's still a huge amount of work to do in relation to the lifting of Covid restrictions.”

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