Garden centres to reopen as N Ireland announces ‘baby steps’ out of lockdown

Stormont’s leaders have announced some minor relaxations of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown measures.

Garden centres and household recycling centres will be able to reopen on Monday.

Marriage ceremonies involving someone who is suffering from a terminal illness will also be allowed from next week.

The move comes after a meeting of the powersharing executive on Thursday.

Coronavirus – Tue May 12, 2020
Arlene Foster said the region’s journey out of lockdown would be incremental (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster, who revealed Northern Ireland’s infection rate (R rate) had dropped to below 0.7, said the announcement represented “very tentative first steps toward recovery”.

The R rate is the number of people an infected person passes the disease to.

“It is important that everyone understands that the process of relaxing restrictions will be incremental and there won’t be a dramatic shift in relation to the lifting of restrictions,” said Mrs Foster.

Deaths among those who have tested positive for coronavirus rose to 454 in the region on Thursday, after a further five fatalities were announced.

Northern Ireland’s lockdown exit plan sets out a five-step process, but does not assign projected dates for any of the stages.

Coronavirus – Tue May 12, 2020
Michelle O’Neill said the region would have to take baby steps out of lockdown (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the executive would “move towards step one” of the exit plan on Monday when further relaxations would be announced.

She described Thursday’s announcements as “baby steps”.

The ministers also committed to publish their decision-making matrix each day going forward, to give the public sight of what factors were influencing moves around restrictions.

“We must remember that the regulations are in place to save lives and the executive does not take decisions on whether to maintain or indeed to relax the restrictions lightly,” said Ms O‘Neill.

“Every decision is carefully judged based on an evaluation of risks and potential benefits. Our ability to recover from coronavirus will be a partnership and the partnership effort involves every single member of society.

“And, as our partners in that recovery plan, it is right that we’re open and honest with the public about how we make our assessments and how we arrive at those most important decisions on your behalf.

“So we have agreed to publish the decision making matrix that we use to inform those judgments.”

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