Hairdressers, sports and driving lessons return today as NI takes ‘important step’ out of lockdown

Northern Ireland today takes a “steady but important step” on the road to recovery with the return of hairdressers, sports, and other activities.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 5:01 am
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 22nd April 2021 Business across Northern Ireland, including hairdressers and tattoo studios, prepare for reopening tomorrow as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions across the country are eased. Hairdresser Adam Scott helps prepare the Andrew Watson salon on the Lisburn Road, south Belfast, for opening. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

It will be great to be back for both small business owners and shaggy-haired members of the public alike.

And further easing of lockdown is set to follow next Friday, when non-essential retail, beer gardens and outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants, gyms and swimming pools reopen, while curfews on takeaways and off-licences are lifted.

First Minister Arlene Foster also suggested yesterday that future reopening dates could be brought forward, depending on the public health situation.

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Hairdresser Monica Fee, who owns a salon in Londonderry, said she is looking forward to getting back to work but admitted to some nerves ahead of the big day.

“It’s good to be back but I am still a wee bit worried,” she told the News Letter.

“I’m a bit nervous about it all, and I was the last time as well. Where I am in Derry has the highest rate (of coronavirus infection) in the UK.”

She added: “We’ve all been off for so long. It feels like the night before a wedding.”

Mrs Foster said: “Thanks to the efforts of people across Northern Ireland, we are now ready to mark another steady but important step forward on our road to recovery.

“Our focus as we move out of restrictions has been on young people, families, wellbeing, and restarting our economy. The relaxations that are now coming into effect, and those that will follow before the end of the month, will make an enormous difference to the wellbeing of people and our economic recovery.”

She added: “I am grateful and proud to see the impressive levels of innovation and energy from businesses and organisations, across all sectors, to ensure a safe and smooth reopening.”

The Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, said: “The success of our vaccination programme, coupled with the efforts of the public, has enabled us to make good headway and we are beginning to see the benefits as we gradually restart our society.

She continued: “The relaxations coming into effect – from the reopening of our hairdressers, to the resumption of competitive sport – are good news for people’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

“And it’s great news for those businesses and workers who will be able to restart.”

What changes today?

l Close-contact services allowed;

l Driving lessons and tests resume;

l Outdoor competitive sports returns (no spectators);

l Outdoor visitor attractions and activity centres open;

l Static band practice allowed at agreed outdoor locations.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the Republic of Ireland won’t be following suit and easing lockdown restrictions as quickly as the government on this side of the border.

He put the difference down to the faster vaccine roll-out in Northern Ireland.

The latest figures show that around 60% of the adult population in Northern Ireland has had at least one dose, with around a fifth having had two doses.

In the Republic of Ireland, less than a quarter of the population have had one dose, and less than a tenth have had two doses.

“I don’t see perfect alignment or anything in the next number of weeks,” Mr Martin said. “There will be some gaps.”

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann, meanwhile, said during a press briefing earlier this week that the “disparity” between the two jurisdictions is a concrn, but stressed that Northern Ireland won’t be held back by the slower pace in the south.

“I suppose that disparity is a concern but it is something that wouldn’t have an impact on us easing our restrictions here in Northern Ireland,” Mr Swann said.

Yesterday, the first minister said the Executive will “keep looking to see if we can move faster”.

But she cautioned that will depend on the impact of the current and imminent relaxations on Covid-19 transmission rates.

“We have to see what the impact is of relaxations and then make an assessment as to whether we can move dates forward,” Mrs Foster said.

The first and deputy first ministers were speaking during a visit to the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown to welcome the return of competitive outdoor sports.

Earlier, Mr Swann had said the Covid-19 R number – an estimate of the rate at which the virus is spreading through the population – has fallen back slightly.

A rate above one means the virus is reproducng faster than it is dying out.

It is now estimated to be between 0.7- and 1.05, compared to a rate of between 0.95-1.4 at the same time last week. The Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, said: “The success of our vaccination programme, coupled with the efforts of the public, has enabled us to make good headway and we are beginning to see the benefits as we gradually restart our society.

She continued: “The relaxations coming into effect – from the reopening of our hairdressers, to the resumption of competitive sport – are good news for people’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

“And it’s great news for those businesses and workers who will be able to restart.”

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the Republic of Ireland won’t be following suit and easing lockdown restrictions as quickly as the government on this side of the border.

He put the difference down to the faster vaccine roll-out in Northern Ireland.

The latest figures show that around 60% of the adult population in Northern Ireland has had at least one dose, with around a fifth having had two doses.

In the Republic of Ireland, less than a quarter of the population have had one dose, and less than a tenth have had two doses.

“I don’t see perfect alignment or anything in the next number of weeks,” Mr Martin said. “There will be some gaps.”

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann, meanwhile, said during a press briefing earlier this week that the “disparity” between the two jurisdictions is a concrn, but stressed that Northern Ireland won’t be held back by the slower pace in the south.

“I suppose that disparity is a concern but it is something that wouldn’t have an impact on us easing our restrictions here in Northern Ireland,” Mr Swann said.

Yesterday, the first minister said the Executive will “keep looking to see if we can move faster”.

But she cautioned that will depend on the impact of the current and imminent relaxations on Covid-19 transmission rates.

“We have to see what the impact is of relaxations and then make an assessment as to whether we can move dates forward,” Mrs Foster said.

The first and deputy first ministers were speaking during a visit to the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown to welcome the return of competitive outdoor sports.

Earlier, Mr Swann had said the Covid-19 R number – an estimate of the rate at which the virus is spreading through the population – has fallen back slightly.

A rate above one means the virus is reproducng faster than it is dying out.

It is now estimated to be between 0.7- and 1.05, compared to a rate of between 0.95-1.4 at the same time last week.

There were three new deaths associated with coronavirus reported in Northern Ireland yesterday.

The latest fatalities bring the total reported by the Department of Health at Stormont for the past seven days to seven, and 2,140 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a recent trend of slightly rising numbers of coronavirus cases wasn’t replicated in the figures released yesterday afternoon.

A total of 120 people tested positive in the most recent 24-hour reporting period, bringing the total for the past week to 763 – a drop on the total of 833 reported the week before.

The number of people being admitted to hospital with the virus has also continued to fall. In the past week there were 22 new coronavirus admissions, compared to 28 the week before. Total patient numbers were 62 yesterday.

What changes today?

- Re-opening of close contact services, including training;

- Resumption of driving instruction and theory tests;

- Driving testing can resume;

- Competitive outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated, with participant numbers not exceeding 100 and no spectators permitted, can return;

- Outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated extended to include squad training;

- Re-opening of outdoor visitor attractions including outdoor activity centres;

- Resumption of Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EATL) on an indoor and outdoor basis in gatherings of up to 30 people; and

- Static band practice/rehearsal will be permitted in agreed outdoor locations.

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