Some Covid lockdown restrictions eased today amid calls for Executive to 'set out clear dates' for reopening of economy
SOME of Northern Ireland's coronavirus restrictions are eased today amid calls for the executive to "set out clear dates" for the reopening of other parts of the economy.
Simon Hamilton from the Belfast Chamber, which represents more than 700 businesses, last night said they needed "some hope" after remaining closed for almost four months.
It comes ahead of an executive meeting on Thursday when ministers are due to consider additional changes to lockdown measures, which could see the re-opening of gyms, hairdressers, outdoor bars and non-essential retail.
It is understood that Economy Minister Diane Dodds will suggest the reopening of some strands within the hospitality and leisure industries from April 26.
Mr Hamilton said businesses were hopeful the meeting will bring "some much-needed good news".
"Their optimism comes from the fact that the economy minister has proposed reopening to her ministerial colleagues and also because the health situation is clearly improving to the point where ending the restrictions is more than justified and arguably overdue." he said.
He said business owners would watch in envy this week as retailers in England reopen and argued that the health situation in Northern Ireland is "comparable or even better than in Great Britain".
"They are worried about what further delay in reopening will mean for jobs and the future of their businesses," he said.
"The executive must not miss the opportunity its review gives to set dates for reopening these beleaguered businesses, give them some hope and allow them to safely start trading again."
Today sees the relaxation of some measures, including schools returning in full.
The number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, will increase from six to 10, while the 'stay at home' messaging is to be replaced with a 'stay local' and 'work from home' message.
Outdoor retail such as car dealerships and garden centres will reopen, and click and collect services will resume. Outdoor sports training will be allowed for recognised clubs, in groups of up to 15, provided all indoor facilities except toilets remain closed.
People planning to get married or enter a civil partnership will be permitted to view potential venues for ceremonies at a limit of up to four people.
The number of people allowed to attend such ceremonies will also increase, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.
In a joint statement, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the "latest steps forward on the pathway out of restrictions are good news for our society".
Mrs Foster said: "This is a milestone day that signals our confidence in the way ahead.
"We are seeing a steady reduction in the health risk indicators and strong progress from our vaccine programme with more than one million vaccines administered across Northern Ireland.
"These combined with our expanded test, track and protect services will power us along our pathway to recovery."
Ms O'Neill added: "This is a hugely significant day as we take some more important steps forward on our pathway out of restrictions.
"We should all take heart from this progress, which is good news for young people, sports, families, business and communities."
Figures last night revealed that there was one further death linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland on Sunday and an additional 89 positive cases.
In the Republic, there were two coronavirus deaths yesterday and a further 303 confirmed cases.