Tuesday 2nd March 2021, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill stood outside Stormont. They spoke about Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions in place due to covid 19. Rather than leaving you to fight your way through all the mumbo-jumbo, I decided to break it down simply for you. All my information is from BBC and BelfastLive, as well as from the Northern Ireland Government website. For information on England, Scotland or Wales and how they plan to leave lockdown, please click here.
Northern Ireland and Covid Restrictions
Currently in Northern Ireland, we are in our third lockdown. Many would agree that this has been the hardest one, with many of us reaching breaking point due to lockdown fatigue. However, hopes were raised when Boris Johnston announced England’s roadmap out of lockdown.
While we listened to the voices on the hill insist that they would be lead by data not dates, little did we expect Northern Ireland’s Roadmap out of restrictions to give zero indication of what would happen when. To find out what our roadmap is, please keep reading.
What restrictions are currently in place?
From midnight Christmas Day (so essentially 11pm Christmas Eve), Northern Ireland entered the latest lockdown. It was due to be in place until early February. Then it was extended until 5th March. Now it has been extended until 1st April, with ministers reiterating that people should not make plans for Easter.
Many family gatherings remain prohibited, with support bubbles and some other exemptions in place. People were told to continue to work from home where possible. And the stay home message was imposed. People are allowed to leave home if they have a “reasonable excuse”. However, no travel limit was imposed. And so many flocked to the coast, citing “taking exercise” as their reason for travel. Technically what we’re in now is Stage 1 of Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions, so we’ll go into this in more detail later.
The discovery of new variants scared the Health Minister into recommending we keep these restrictions in place to protect our long-neglected NHS. For reference, the next planned review of Northern Ireland’s restrictions will take place 18th March.
Northern Ireland’s Roadmap Out of Restrictions
Originally due to be announced Monday 1st March, Stormont failed to surprise when they delayed their announcement. Did we expect anything less from the government that didn’t sit for 3 years while on full pay? Or from the government who announced at 11pm on a Thursday night that businesses could not reopen on the Friday? Not really. However when they finally did announce Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions, many of us were disappointed at the lack of information.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want dates. Dates can be altered and give an opportunity for disappointment when things change at the last minute all over again. What we wanted to see were statistics. With the death rate down to single figures, positive cases down, and hospitalisation down, we expected to be given percentages to look for as a population. Objectives to be achieved in order to relax restrictions further. We can, however, look at how the Stormont Executive will approach easing restrictions in the image below.
Instead, we have been given a 5 Step Plan. Which is split across 9 sectors; Home and Community, Sports and Leisure Activities, Work, Education and Young People, Worship and Ceremonies, Retail, Culture, Heritage and Entertainment, Travel and Tourism, and Hospitality. While the public haven’t been given our goalposts for moving through the 5 stages, progress will be based on a range of evidence. Essentially, this means we can be in different phases across the nine pathways at any given time (i.e. Stage 5 of Education and Young People while still in Stage 1 of Hospitality). For the rest of this post, I will try my best to break these down into simple chunks.
Stage 1 – Lockdown
This is the stage we’re all in at the minute. Let’s have a look at what this means for each of the 9 sectors. Remember, some of these are already changing in the next week or so!
- Home and Community – Contact with others is limited to your own household and your support bubble. One big change from Christmas that I wasn’t aware of is that up to 6 people from 2 households can meet outdoors not at a private dwelling.
- Education and Young People – School buildings remain closed for all except the vulnerable, and the children of key workers. However, Higher and Further education students and apprentices are permitted essential face-to-face learning. Finally, special schools, childcare and EOTAS are open, and finally targeted youth services and interventions are allowed.
- Culture, Heritage and Entertainment – Indoor and some outdoor visitor attractions are closed, and all indoor seated venues are closed. This last bit was news to me, but theatres and concert venues are allowed to be open for rehearsals and recordings. Makes sense I suppose!
- Sports and Leisure Activities – Outdoor exercise with those from your own household/support bubble and one other person from another household is permitted. Please note, it is stipulated here that you stay within your local area. Therefore no journeys to the beach if you don’t live near one! Also, training and competition for elite athletes is permitted.
- Worship and Ceremonies – There is currently a 25 guest limit at civil partnerships, marriages and funerals. Pre- and Post- gatherings are not allowed at all.
- Travel and Tourism – Public transport is running on a much reduced service with safety measures in place. All tourist accommodation is closed, with some exceptions, and travel is for essential purposes only. Quarantine rules can also be found on the NI Direct website.
- Work – Remote working is the default position. Those who cannot work from home are permitted to go to work provided all safety regulations are followed.
- Retail and Services – Essential retail only is open. Non-essential retain is closed and not permitted to operate a click and collect service. All close contact services are closed, and there is a curfew on alcohol off-sales.
- Hospitality – All closed. Except for takeaway services, which have an 11pm curfew.
Stage 2 – Cautious First Steps
- Home and Community – Up to 6 from 2 households can meet outdoors at a private dwelling – get those barbecues out folks! Just remember the magic number 6. Unless 10 of you from 2 households want to meet outdoors at a non-private dwelling, because that’s now allowed too! The stay at home message will be relaxed at this stage too. What does this mean for you? You can meet up with friends from one other household in the park, and you can host a small barbecue in your garden with one other household.
- Education and Young People – There will be a partial return to classroom teaching, however remote and online learning are still a valid option. Similarly, there will be a partial return to practical face-to-face learning for further education students and apprentices. Finally for Stage 2, there will be a partial re-opening of generic youth services.
- Culture, Heritage and Entertainment – All outdoor visitor attractions will reopen in Stage 2! But that’s it unfortunately.
- Sports and Leisure Activities – Outdoor sports facilities can re-open for training and organised group activities. Outdoor competitive sport can start up again, provided there are no spectators, and outdoor sport for children can resume with their accompanying adult allowed to attend. This basically means golf is back on the table! As is tennis. Might have to get into tennis if I want to do something different!
- Worship and Ceremonies – There will be a return to services in places of worship with a risk assessment. Ahis stage, there will also be an increase in numbers at both indoor and outdoor civil partnerships, marriages and funerals. Again, this is dependent on a risk assessment taking place.
- Travel and Tourism – Public transport will be increased in line with demand within limits of social distancing requirements.
- Work – Essentially, the big change here is the start of returning to the workplace as places reopen. However, working from home is still recommended where possible.
- Retail and Services – Non-essential retain will be permitted to operate a click and collect service. Driving lessons and tests can resume at this stage, so be prepared to see more learners on the road again.
- Hospitality – Takeaways will have their curfew lifted, so you can order your takeaway for after 11pm if you live somewhere this is possible. Premises where alcohol cannot be consumed can open, providing they operate on a table service basis, with up to 6 people from 2 households per table. Essentially, this means you can go to a cafe with a friend for a drink or a meal. Note, you won’t be able to go to a bring-your-own restaurant at this point due to the wording of the rules.
Stage 3 – Gradual Easing
- Home and Community – Up to 6 from 2 households can meet inside at a private dwelling! Increased numbers will be allowed for organised outdoor gatherings not being held at a private dwelling, and restricted numbers will be allowed indoors at public buildings. Sound a little confusing? Basically you can have a friend round for coffee, and larger groups of people can gather in parks.
- Education and Young People – Parents give a sigh of relief as a full return to classroom teaching happens in schools! A wider range of outdoor learning will resume, and extended schools activities will start up again. There will be a further re-opening of generic youth services. Essentially, breakfast clubs can reopen, as can after school activities and educational field trips.
- Culture, Heritage and Entertainment – Indoor visitor attractions, including heritage sites, will reopen in Stage 3 of Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions. Libraries will reopen, and low-risk activities including organised rehearsals and practise can take place. What this means for you is that you can use the library, visit a museum or gallery, or practise in a band or choir!
- Sports and Leisure Activities – Leisure facilities and all indoor sports facilities will reopen at stage 3 of the Northern Ireland roadmap out of restrictions. Indoor group activities and classes can resume, and activity venues like soft play can reopen! Oh, and indoor sport for children can resume with their accompanying adult allowed to attend. In summary, you can go swimming, to the gym, play indoor sports, do gymnastics, have a game of indoor five-a-side, go indoor climbing, or attend fitness classes.
- Worship and Ceremonies – Wedding receptions are back! With mitigations and limitations. Similarly, pre and post funeral gatherings will also be allowed with these mitigations and limitations. While it may be small, at least it’s something!
- Travel and Tourism – If you own a caravan, get ready because the sites are reopening now you’re in phase 3! However the shared facilities will remain closed at this time. Hotels, guest houses and B&Bs will be opened at this stag, with mitigations. Public transport will be returned to full service, however social distancing will still be an important consideration.
- Work – There will be a phased return to on-site work and to offices. Seminars and meetings will be allowed to take place too. Again, there will be a limit on the number of people in attendance, alongside other mitigations, but that should be the majority of us getting back to some semblance of normality when it comes to our working lives!
- Retail and Services – Non-essential will finally be open again – cue the shopping sprees! All off-sales curfews will be lifted, and close contact services such as beauticians, hairdressers and massages will be reopened with mitigations – ie wear your masks and wear them properly. You’ll be able to walk around a car dealership or a garden centre (hello Dobbies!) and be allowed to attend dress fittings in a bridal shop. I however, am most excited to get my hair cut!
- Hospitality – Now we’re getting to the good stuff… premises where alcohol can be consumed can open with table service! Again, the 6 people from 2 households applies here. However this excludes wet pubs. Sorry guys, we’ll support you in Stage 4 it seems.
Stage 4 – Further Easing (also known as WE’RE ALMOST THERE!)
- Home and Community – Up to 10 people from 2 households can meet inside and outside at a private dwelling! There will be zero restrictions on meeting outdoors at non-private dwellings. Overnight stays will be allowed when visiting people, and increased numbers will be allowed inside at non-private dwellings. Basically? Have a picnic or barbecue with friends and family from multiple households! Stay overnight at a friend’s or family’s house! Go to a community fun day! Oh I’m getting excited just thinking about it…
- Education and Young People – A greater increase in face-to-face teaching for Higher and Further education students and also apprentices. Inter-schools sport will be allowed. Finally, school clubs and extracurricular activities are allowed back, including societies at universities.
- Culture, Heritage and Entertainment – During stage 4 of Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions sees indoor venues (theatres, concerts, cinemas etc) where viewers are seated allowed to reopen! Amateur and youth performances will be allowed to take place (again with mitigations so take this as wearing masks and distanced as much as possible), and outdoor organised events can take place with limited numbers. I take this to mean that my tickets for an outdoor concert will be postponed unless the concert is split across multiple nights with significantly reduced numbers at each night. But please don’t quote me on that. Either way, we can go to a different place to sit and watch a film on a bigger screen than the ones we’ve been watching for the last 12+ months!
- Sports and Leisure Activities – At this stage, a limited number of spectators will be allowed at outdoor sports, and a different limited number will be allowed at indoor sports events. Basically, we can head to Ravenhill or whatever it’s calling itself now to watch some rugby in a limited crowd, and a small crowd will be allowed at swimming galas!
- Worship and Ceremonies – In stage 4 of Northern Ireland’s roadmap out of restrictions, the government won’t be setting an upper limit on pre- or post- gatherings for civil partnerships, weddings or funerals. Instead, this limit will be determined by the venue, following a risk assessment and the usual mitigations. Limited live music will be allowed at these receptions, meaning you’ll likely be allowed a solo musician at your reception!
- Travel and Tourism – Accommodation with shared amenities (bathrooms etc) will be allowed to open at long last in stage 4 of the Northern Ireland roadmap out of restrictions! Also, hotels will be allowed to open more than just their bedrooms and restaurants. You’ll be able to book a treatment in the hotel spa, visit wedding fairs and similar at hotels, and stay in a hostel..
- Work – Revised risk assessments will allow yet more workplaces to open, so more of you will get back to work again! Work conferences will be allowed to resume too. This means you’ll be allowed to attend a one-day conference, but no social networking events such as the BCFA events.
- Retail and Services – All close contact services will reopen in stage 4 without the need for appointments (Dad will be happy!) with remaining mitigations. They will also begin to allow more people in store in all parts of the retail sector. Biggest change here really is the ability to walk in for a haircut without an appointment.
- Hospitality – Finally the wet pubs can reopen! However, it will be table service only, with the original rule of 6 people from 2 households maximum per table. But they’re back! See you down the Thirsty Goat anyone? These venues, and the others too, will also be allowed live music in them from this stage of the roadmap out of restrictions.
Stage 5 – Preparing for the future!
- Home and Community – Household limits will be fully lifted for al private dwellings. Organised outdoor gatherings will be limited only by risk assessment and mitigations. Celebrate your birthday with your friends once again and breathe the free air again my friends!
- Education and Young People – Face-to-face learning will be fully back for further education colleges and universities. Oh, and spectators will be allowed in to school performance events such as school nativity plays again.
- Culture, Heritage and Entertainment – Larger outdoor organised events, concerts, festivals, and that kind of thing can take place once again! Folks, I may even try Glastonbury… even if the crowd scares me, it’s the idea of being allowed to go again!
- Sports and Leisure Activities – Basically they’ll start allowing even more spectators into events!
- Worship and Ceremonies – Further mitigations for pre- and post-gatherings for civil partnerships, weddings and funerals, and live music will be allowed as well as actual dancing at a reception! The big weddings are back folks!
- Travel and Tourism – Public transport will be running at full service with fewer mitigations. Preparation will be underway for the full return of leisure travel. Yup folks, holidays abroad are still not fully back! You can, however, enjoy a wide range of tourist attractions with accommodation open to all visitors.
- Work – Fully reopened! You can attend large work conferences, with limited social networking events, and multi-day conferences with social networking events! How exciting!
- Retail and Services – All retail and close contact services are fully open with reduced mitigations.
- Hospitality – Bar service will be permitted in wet pubs at long last! Also, the 6 people rule will be relaxed! Live entertainment will be allowed in hospitality venues, and nightclubs will finally reopen!
We’re a long way off everything being back to normal. Hands, Face, Space will stay the rule for quite a while. All we can do is follow the rules to the best of our abilities, use the app, and make sure we self isolate if any of us begin to notice any symptoms. Oh, and get tested. And if you’re offered the vaccine – please take it is you are medically able to do so! That helps too. We’re nearly there folks. Just a little bit longer. And I tell you one thing. I’ll be having one heck of a blowout when everything is fully relaxed once again! Please remmeber though, just because something’s reopened doesn’t mean you have to do it. If you aren’t comfortable going to a bar or restaurant when they reopen, no one has a right to force you.