Stormont Executive agrees series of lockdown easements for Northern Ireland

David Young and Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

Stormont ministers have agreed a series of lockdown relaxations including a timetable for returning all schoolchildren to classes in Northern Ireland.

Modest and small steps focus on outdoor gatherings and sporting activities as well as click and collect services for non-essential retail outlets.

The “stay at home” rule is also set to lift next month, replaced with a “stay local” message.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Our responsibility to you is to look carefully at how we can improve the situation for you in a careful and sustainable way.

“We want to give you hope and we have discussed today a number of small steps which we hope will be welcome.”

Primary pupils in years P1 to P3 are already back in classes and secondary school children in year groups 12 to 14 are due back on Monday March 22.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Ministers have agreed that remaining primary pupils in P4 to P7 will also return on March 22.

The final cohort, secondary pupils in years eight to 11, will go back to classes on April 12 after the Easter holidays, though this step is subject to an Executive review of the public health picture at the end of March.

Mrs Foster said: “So today, having taken into account the prevailing Covid situation, and with care and caution, Primary 4 to Primary 7 should return fully from 22 March and all pupils including Years 8-11 will fully resume on 12 April.

“These decisions are aimed primarily at getting our children back to school in the safest way possible, with mitigations and preparation time. That has benefits for us all.

“We have been very concerned throughout about the impacts for the education of our young people and we know that the education sector will pull together to help address that.”

Mrs Foster said the broad approach was “cautious but optimistic”.

In terms of the wider lockdown restrictions, ministers have agreed:

From April 1

– Up to six people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.
– Ten people, from no more than two households, able to participate in outdoor sporting activities. Golf courses to reopen (clubhouses to remain closed).
– Click and collect purchases allowed from garden centres and plant nurseries.

Coronavirus – Mon Mar 15, 2021
Locked gates at St Brigid’s Gaelic Athletic Club grounds in Musgrave Park, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

From April 12

– Up to 10 people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.
– Click and collect at all non-essential retail outlets.
– “Stay at home” requirement lifts. Will be replaced by “stay local” message.
– Outdoor sports training to resume for sports clubs affiliated with recognised governing bodies with no more than 15 participants in one training group. Indoor club facilities, apart from toilets, to remain closed.

April 12 measures are subject to final ratification by the Executive in the week before they come into effect, likely on April 8.

Mrs Foster added: “We have a long way to go but the steps we as an Executive have agreed are designed to start that process in line with our pathway commitments and to give that bit of hope that everyone is seeking.”

The moves were agreed at a virtual Executive meeting earlier on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland has been living under restrictive lockdown measures since a spike of coronavirus cases in December.

The Executive published its Pathway Out Of Restrictions blueprint earlier this month.

Arlene Foster
First Minster Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

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 plan did not initially include any dates.

The death of one more person who previously tested positive for Covid-19 was confirmed by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Tuesday.

Another 164 confirmed cases of the virus were also recorded.

The department’s confirmed coronavirus hospital inpatient number stood at 176 on Tuesday morning, 18 of whom were in intensive care.