This comes after the opening of the coronavirus vaccination programme – which has already seen more than half the adult population given at least one dose and around one-in-10 given both doses – to people in the over-45s age category.
Falling into that age category is the 49-year-old Health Minister Robin Swann who got his jab at Ballee Pharmacy in Ballymena yesterday.
Mr Swann said he was “delighted” to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and expressed hope for “brighter days” to come thanks to the “exceptional” vaccination programme.
From today onwards, up to six people from no more than two households will be able to meet outdoors in a private garden.
Meanwhile up to 10 people, from no more than two households, will also be allowed to participate in outdoor sporting activities.
Golf courses are also set to reopen although clubhouses are required to remain shut.
Garden centres and plant nurseries will be allowed to open for click-and-collect services only.
Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey welcomed the slight relaxation of restrictions, but warned that even outdoor activities will have to take place with precautions in place.
“Sport and physical activity play a crucial role in our physical and mental health and well-being and we have all missed the opportunity to get out and get active over the past few months,” she said. “That will start to change.
“It is, however, vital that the return to activities is managed and carefully controlled and I know that the sports’ governing bodies have worked hard to develop detailed protocols to keep volunteers, coaches, parents and participants safe.”
She said indoor sports would have to wait a bit longer: “We have to move forward cautiously with each step being informed by the health and scientific advice to ensure that restrictions continue to be eased and we can eventually get back to competitive action and to indoor sports when the time is right. Responsibility for that rests with everyone involved in sport.”
After today, the next big change to the lockdown restrictions is likely to come on April 12, when all remaining school pupils are set to return to the classroom, the ‘stay-at-home’ message is to be replaced with a ‘stay local’ message, other retailers deemed non-essental will be permitted to open for click-and-collect services, up to 15 people can resume sports training, and the restrictions on meeting in gardens is eased to allow up to 10 people from two households.
Also from April 12, those considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to coronavirus will be advised they can return to the workplace if adequate infection control measures are put in place.