Covid-19: NI pubs and cafes to open outdoors from 30 April

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image captionUnlicensed and licensed premises such as restaurants, beer gardens, and cafes can open outdoors on 30 April

Outdoor hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland will be allowed to open on 30 April.

New indicative dates were agreed by ministers on Thursday after a meeting of the executive at Stormont.

Unlicensed and licensed premises such as restaurants, beer gardens, and cafes can open outdoors earlier than expected, as can gyms.

Indoor hospitality venues, including pubs and hotels, are then to reopen on 24 May.

Non-essential retail will reopen from 30 April.

Stormont ministers agreed the dates for the reopening of a number of sectors.

First Minister Arlene Foster told a special sitting of the NI Assembly that it was a "landmark day".

"We must also stress that while we are taking important decisions today, the virus is still with us," Mrs Foster said.

"It is still dangerous and we cannot drop our guard. People are still being infected, hospitals are still receiving patients and unfortunately people are still at risk of serious illness and death.

"So we ask everyone to be mindful. Step out, but step carefully."

image captionFirst Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill addressed a special sitting of the assembly

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was a day of optimism.

"The restrictions have been a necessary way to supress the virus, to save lives and protect our health service. But they have taken their toll. And it is incumbent on us to move forward as soon as circumstances allow," she said.

"But we must do so with caution and have maximum mitigations in place to avoid the virus reclaiming its grip on our society."

NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said the announcement on the reopening of retail had brought clarity.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the announcement was a "very significant step forward for the reopening of our high streets".

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image captionHealth Minister Robin Swann said it was "important to bring optimism and certainty to this improving picture"

Health Minister Robin Swann said it was "important to bring optimism and certainty to this improving picture".

"Every one of us has a part to play in maintaining progress - by getting vaccinated when our turn comes and by sticking with the actions that have served us well for the past year - including social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands. It's also vital to remember that outdoor settings are significantly safer than indoors," Mr Swann said.

It is understood Northern Ireland's R-number for community transmission is now sitting between 0.9 and 1.4, compared to 0.4 to 0.6 last week.

There have been two more Covid-19-related deaths recorded in Northern Ireland in the past 24 hours, with a further 159 people testing positive.

Advice from health officials states this may be partly due to a "rebound effect" after the Easter holidays, the extent of which should become apparent in the next week.

The pace of today was surprising.

We seemed to have gone from a slow and cautious waltz to a fast moving jive. All along for the last couple of weeks we were told by the health minister and the chief medical officer that it had to be slow and it had to be cautious.

But now today the reopening dates came a lot sooner than what we had envisaged, which is good news and can happen, as long as people remain vigilant.

We can go to the hairdressers and can go out for a drink and enjoy a coffee in cafes, but officials are concerned about what will happen behind closed doors.

We don't have any assurances that there will not be another lockdown.

The fear is that as we go into the summer, perhaps we will mostly staycation, but if people travel and come back with another variant, something we don't know of yet, we will perhaps see more people getting sick because the vaccine won't stand the type of variant.

While this is a good day and one we have all been looking forward to, to enjoy the restrictions being lifted in the long term, we are still being advised that we have to be cautious.

Mrs Foster said decisions are aimed at lifting restrictions "where we can".

"We cannot do everything people would want. We are sorry about that and we know it will be disappointing for some," she said.

Ms O'Neill said decisions had been made "carefully".

'Where we can'

"We know that everyone out there is looking for certainty on next steps. We cannot guarantee every step towards the end of this but we do want to give hope," the deputy first minister said.

Proposed dates leaked to the media earlier had suggested outdoor hospitality for pubs would have to wait until 10 May before being allowed to welcome back customers, with indoor venues not reopening before 1 June.

However, Economy Minister Diane Dodds had raised concerns via a letter to the first and deputy first ministers about the proposed dates, saying it was her preference for unlicensed premises to open earlier, on 23 April, followed later by licenced premises.

Northern Ireland took some further gradual steps out of lockdown on Monday, when all pupils returned to school for the first time since Christmas.

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