Northern Ireland lockdown: what you can and can’t do as the rules start easing
Close contact services such as hairdressers and beauty salons were allowed to reopen on Friday, April 23 as part of latest easing of lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland.
Outdoor visitor attractions also reopened, and driving lessons were also allowed to resume from this date along with theory and practical driving tests.
Outdoor competitive sport can now be played as long as numbers don’t exceed 100, but no spectators are permitted to attend. Indoor club facilities, apart from toilets, are to remain closed.
The reopening of the tourism and hospitality sectors were fast-tracked as part of a series of measures agreed by ministers on April 15. The plan signed off by the devolved executive includes two further relaxation dates; April 30 and May 24.
Pubs and cafes can serve people outdoors from Apr 30 and indoors from May 24, while non-essential retail and gyms will reopen on Apr 30.
Indoor dining and hotels will now reopen on 24 May, subject to coronavirus infection rates and a review that month.
Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds described the reopening of close contact services and outdoor attractions in Northern Ireland following lockdown as a “good day and an even better day for the economy”.
Mrs Dodds told media at the reopening of the Natural Hair Company salon in Lisburn, Co Antrim on April 23, “It’s the start of a road back to rebuilding and recovering our economy and a bit of normality.
“Next week is another momentous week and we will reopen all of retail, reopen hospitality outdoors and reopen self-contained accommodation. It’s a really big step forward.”
This news follows the replacement of the “Stay At Home” requirement with a “Stay Local” and “Work from home” message after coronavirus restrictions were eased further in Northern Ireland on Apr 12.
The changes mean up to 10 people from no more than two households can now meet outdoors in a private garden.
Click and collect at all non-essential retail outlets is also allowed to take place, and outdoor retail such as car dealerships and garden centres have reopened.
The remainder of school children, years 8 to 11, were also allowed to return to classrooms on Apr 12 following the staggering reopening of schools in early March.
People planning weddings 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.
Ministers have not made travel outside of the country illegal, but instead issued guidance advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and both Great Britain and the Irish Republic.
These measures form part of the Executive’s Pathway Out Of Restrictions blueprint, which was signed on Mar 2.
It includes five steps along nine pathways – retail; hospitality; education and young people; work; culture, heritage and entertainment; sports and leisure; travel and tourism; worship and ceremonies; and home and community.
The five stages of restriction begin with lockdown then extend to cautious first steps, gradual easing, further easing, and preparing for the future.
The Executive will review the progress of the pathway every four weeks, with the next review on May 13.
How is the vaccine roll-out progressing in Northern Ireland?
As of Apr 22, 892,787 people have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 328,366 second doses have also been administered in Northern Ireland.
It comes as some people aged 35 to 39 will now be able to access a Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Health announced “limited availability” for that age cohort on Apr 19 ahead of the vaccine programme being fully opened to them at the end of April.
People were able to book from Apr 19, with appointments mainly available at the mass vaccine centre at the SSE Arena in Belfast.
The department said appointments in community pharmacies will be made available to 35-39-year-olds later in April as vaccine supplies permit.
All those who are eligible can book to receive their jab at a vaccination centre or participating community pharmacy, as well as the option of waiting for their GP to contact them to arrange their jab.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the vaccination programme in the region will proceed as quickly as vaccine deliveries and capacity allow.
“Opening up to 35-39-year-olds earlier than expected is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all staff who are delivering the vaccination programme in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I encourage those who are eligible to seize this opportunity and take up the offer of vaccination.”
Mr Swann also “strongly encouraged” anyone aged 40 years or over who hasn’t booked themselves a vaccination appointment yet to do so as soon as possible.
What are the rules?
The Stormont Executive has agreed the following lockdown relaxations, beginning on April 23:
Close contact services, hairdressers and beauty salons can reopen
Outdoors visitor attractions may reopen
Driving lessons can resume along with theory and practical driving tests
Outdoor competitive sport will be allowed with numbers not exceeding 100, but no spectators will be allowed
Outdoor sport training extended to full squad training
Equine assisted learning and therapy can take place outdoors and indoors, limited to 30 people
Static band practice/rehearsals can resume outdoors
All remaining non-essential retail will be allowed to reopen
Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can begin to operate
Pubs and restaurants can serve customers in outdoors settings in groups of six from no more than two householders
Curfews on takeaways and off licenses will be removed
Gyms and swimming pools can reopen for individual activities
15 people from no more than three households can attend outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens
May 24 (indicative date)
Pubs and restaurants can serve customers indoors
All tourist accommodation will be allowed to reopen
Domestic gatherings will be allowed indoors
Indoors visitor attractions can reopen
Indoor group exercise will be allowed to return, with numbers limited to suit the size of venue
Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues, after appropriate risk assessments are undertaken
How are the restrictions enforced?
The police are able to take action against those who break these rules, including asking people to disperse and issuing £100 fixed penalty notices. For repeat offenders, these fines can increase up to £3,200.
People aged 18 or over can be fined:
£200 for the first offence, lowered to £100 if paid within 14 days, £400 for the second offence, then doubling for each further offence up to a maximum of £6,400.
A new £800 fine has been implemented from Jan 25 for anybody who attends a gathering of more than 15 people. This fine, announced on Jan 21, will be doubled for each repeat offence.
Can I travel to Northern Ireland?
The executive has agreed that people in Northern Ireland can return to self-contained tourist accommodation from 30 April. That includes static and touring caravans, as well as holiday homes.
However hotels and B&Bs will not be allowed to reopen fully until 24 May, and this will need to be agreed by Stormont ministers closer to the time.
The Executive have also issued guidance against all but essential travel between Northern Ireland, the UK and the Irish Republic.
People arriving in Northern Ireland should self-isolate for 10 days.
Hotels and other accommodation providers can operate on a restricted basis for those already resident, for work related purposes, for vulnerable people, those in emergency situations and people unable to return home.