Stormont ministers set to sign off on North’s lockdown exit plan

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Stormont ministers are set to sign off a phased plan for taking Northern Ireland out of lockdown.

Ministers are meeting on Tuesday morning to review the final version of the much anticipated strategy.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is later expected to unveil the document on the floor of the Assembly in Belfast on behalf of her and First Minister Arlene Foster.

It is understood the plan focuses on nine key areas – retail; hospitality; education and young people; work; culture, heritage and entertainment; sports and leisure; travel and tourism; worship and ceremonies; home and community.

Each will emerge from lockdown in stages. It is understood the stages are lockdown; cautious first steps; gradual easing; further easing; and preparing for the future.

First Minister Arlene Foster, right, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill will unveil the plan in the Assembly. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Ministers have already made clear the blueprint will be led by data, not dates, with decisions on when to move between stages based on scientific and medical data, not the calendar.

Keeping the reproductive rate of the virus below 1 will be a guiding principle.

The executive will review the progress of the pathway at set points, understood to be every four weeks.

The PA news agency understands that the plan will state: “Progress through the phases will be based on a range of evidence and will seek to balance the benefits for us with the potential impact on the transmission of the virus.

“This means we may be in different phases across the nine pathways at any given time.”

Ministers met on Monday to examine the plan and asked officials to bring more clarity to some specific areas ahead of Tuesday morning’s meeting of the devolved administration.

Northern Ireland’s lockdown and accompanying stay-at-home message is currently in place until April 1st. Ministers are due to review that policy on March 18th.

The executive has already outlined plans for a phased return of face-to-face learning at schools.

Only vulnerable children and those of key workers have been attending classes in mainstream schools since January.

P1 to P3 primary school children will return to school on March 8, and on March 22 secondary school children in key exam years – years 12-14 – will go back to class.

On that same date, the P1 to P3s are currently due to revert to home learning for one week ahead of the Easter holidays – to mitigate the impact on infection rates of the secondary school cohort’s return.

However, officials from the departments of health and education were asked last week to examine that aspect of the plan and Mrs Foster has expressed hope that those primary pupils will ultimately be able to remain in school that week.

No date has so far been given for the return of the wider school population.

Covid vaccine

Covid vaccinations extended to those aged 60-64 in…

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More than half a million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Northern Ireland.



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