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lifting lockdown Beer gardens and hairdressers to open in Northern Ireland by the end of the month

All retail, outdoor restaurant and bar services and gyms will open on April 30, while indoor dining and hotels will follow suit on May 24, subject to Covid-19 infection rates.

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Arlene Foster. PA

Arlene Foster. PA

Arlene Foster. PA

Northern Ireland will open outdoor dining from the end of April and hotels from late May, the powersharing executive has said in an acceleration of its lockdown exit plans that will see it reopen its economy far faster than south of the border.

All retail, outdoor restaurant and bar services and gyms will open on April 30, while indoor dining and hotels will follow suit on May 24, subject to Covid-19 infection rates.

"We are now entering brighter and better times," First Minister Arlene Foster told the regional assembly in a speech to announce the new plans.

Ireland has given first Covid-19 vaccine doses to around one-fifth of the population compared to three-fifths in Northern Ireland, plans to begin the phased reopening of retail in May with parts of the hospitality sector to follow from June.

Differences in rules on either side of the open border have in the past raised fears of large numbers of people crossing to avail of services and undermining public health measures.

England, which has also given first vaccine doses to around two-thirds of its population, reopened all shops, personal care premises and outdoor dining this week.

After lengthy discussions today, ministers brought forward a series of reopening dates they had been initially considering.

With Northern Ireland having marked one million Covid-19 vaccines by last weekend and with other key health and scientific indicators going in the right direction, ministers have agreed the most significant steps out of lockdown to date.

It it understood the Stormont Executive has agreed the following lockdown relaxations.

April 23

Close contact services, hairdressers and beauty salons, reopen.

Outdoors visitor attractions reopen.

Driving lessons can resume. Theory and practical driving tests resume.

Outdoor competitive sport will be allowed with numbers not exceeding 100. No spectators allowed.

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Equine assisted learning and therapy can take place outdoors and indoors, limited to 30 people.

April 30

All remaining non-essential retail to reopen.

Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can operate.

Licensed and unlicensed premises can serve customers in outdoors settings in groups of six from no more than two householders.

Removal of curfews on takeaways and off licenses.

Reopening of gyms.

Limit on outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens increased to 15 people from no more than three households.

May 24 (indicative date)

Licensed and unlicensed premises can operate indoors.

Rest of tourist accommodation can reopen.

Domestic gatherings indoors allowed.

Indoors visitor attractions reopen.

Return of indoor group exercise, with numbers limited to suit the size of venue.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues.

Northern Ireland took some further gradual steps out of lockdown on Monday.

The remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, returned to school, while a limited number of outdoor-focused retail outlets, such as garden centres and car dealerships, reopened.

The "stay-at-home" messaging was also replaced with "stay local" advice.

Other relaxations on Monday saw the number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, increase from six to 10.

Click-and-collect services for non-essential retail also resumed.

Outdoor sports training was allowed for recognised clubs, in groups of up to 15, provided all indoor facilities except toilets remain closed.

The number of people allowed to attend marriage and civil partnership ceremonies also increased, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.

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