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Welcome steps towards recovery but caution still needed

Thursday's announcement that some lockdown measures would be eased was unexpected, coming just days after the executive unveiled its five step roadmap towards recovery.

Nevertheless, there will be a sense of relief that the medical and scientific advice allows for a lifting of a small number of restrictions from Monday.

These include the reopening of garden centres and recycling facilities, both of which are outdoors and should allow for social distancing and a minimising of risk.

While many people will welcome the opportunity to stock up on plants for their garden or get rid of household waste that has been piling up over the past few weeks, it is essential to avoid overwhelming the places that will be reopening, which can lead to traffic problems and other issues.

The steps in relation to garden centres and recycling units represent small developments that are commercial and practical in nature.

An additional move unveiled by the first and deputy first minister allowing marriages in relation to those with a terminal illness was a purely compassionate decision which will be of huge importance to couples facing the most difficult of circumstances.

Michelle O'Neill said the executive would move towards step one of the exit plan on Monday when there would be an announcement on further relaxation measures, describing it as 'baby steps'.

These are indeed baby steps but they also must be the right steps at the right time as the worst possible outcome would be another spike in cases and deaths.

Safety of workers and the wider public must be paramount while we are still tackling an invisible and highly contagious foe.

A more people return to work, there is a major concern over public transport and maintaining safe distancing on buses and trains.

The trade union Unite has called for face coverings to be mandatory and there are compelling arguments that support this approach.

We are already advised to wear coverings in confined spaces and making sure everyone on public transport has a mask would provide an extra level of protection - and confidence - to drivers and other passengers.

Minister Nichola Mallon says she is keeping this matter under review and the union's views must be taken seriously.

In the weeks and months ahead we must be mindful of keeping everyone protected and preventing coronavirus flaring up once again.

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