Hairdressers set to re-open on April 23 and shops a week later
HAIRDRESSERS and beauticians will be allowed to re-open their doors across Northern Ireland from Friday April 23 and non-essential retail a week later, ministers are expected to announce today.
The Irish News has learned that while the Executive is set to sign off on some dates as part of its lockdown exit plan, clarity is still being sought around the hospitality industry.
Outdoor visitor attractions such as zoos will also re-open for business from April 23 and caravan parks from April 30. Driving lessons will resume next week.
Clothes shop and other 'non-essential' high street businesses, which have been closed since Christmas, can begin trading from Friday April 30 under the proposals.
Sources say that May 10 has been mooted for restaurants, bars and cafes to operate outdoors - though this may be brought forward by a week.
With many premises not having adequate outside space or beer gardens to serve customers, it is understood the executive is attempting to come up with a solution.
Unlike in England and Scotland, no firm date has been agreed by Stormont for the re-opening of indoor pubs and restaurants - but The Irish News understands the current advice from health officials is that is should "not be before June 1".
Groups of six in England will be able to have an indoor drink or meal in pubs and restaurants from May 17 while nightclubs are set to open on June 21. Indoor hospitality businesses will also open in Scotland on May 17, with similar limits on customer numbers in place.
Meanwhile, a proposed date for the re-opening of gyms in the north - albeit with no classes and one-on-one training - is May 10, but this is yet be agreed.
Guidance is also being sought around up to 30 guests attending wedding receptions by mid-May.
As coronavirus infection rates and hospital admissions continue to fall, both Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday signalled their optimism around the re-opening of society.
The rollout of the vaccination programme is also head of schedule, with more than one million doses administered and 830,000 people receiving at least one jab.
While both ministers have urged caution, they also said that people and the business community needed a timeline for the months ahead.
Ms O'Neill told The Irish News that today's announcement will be "a day of hope and optimism".
"I’m confident the Executive will agree indicative dates across a whole range of issues," she said.
With many tough lockdown measures still in place since December 26, Mr Swann told a press briefing that "the scales are tipping in favour of relaxing some restrictions, and of accelerating that process".
But hospitality chiefs last night called for the sector to be reopened "immediately" and criticised the executive in leaving the north being "behind" at a time when infection rates are falling dramatically.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster said: "The NI Executive need to take the decision to define dates to reopen the hospitality sector as soon as possible and for an accelerated plan to be put in place to get the entirety of the industry open.
"...In many cases, we are statistically ahead, or on a par, with England, Scotland and Wales, across a number of measurements, so why are we so far behind and the last region in the UK to sort out the roadmap for reopening for hospitality?”
"Our sector cannot wait around forever. Every single day brings news of further despair and livelihoods being hit hard, especially when we see other parts of the UK opening up on the news. The Executive needs to bring immediate clarity, be confident in its decision making and accelerate reopening where possible."