image captionBusiness across Northern Ireland have been waiting on dates for full re-opening
Stormont ministers are being asked on Thursday to approve the full reopening of NI retail outlets on 30 April, BBC News NI understands.
Close contact services such as hairdresser and beauty salons will reopen the week before.
Outdoor visitor attractions will also open that week, if the dates being proposed are agreed by the executive, which began meeting at 12:00 BST.
Details will be outlined to assembly members at a special sitting.
BBC News NI understands that it was proposed that outdoor hospitality for pubs will have to wait until 10 May before being allowed to welcome back customers.
However, Stormont sources have indicated that ministers are prepared to bring forward the proposed opening dates for the hospitality sector, as long as it is in line with advice from health officials.
On 14 May, wedding receptions and post burial events in hospitality venues will be possible, but limited to 30 people.
Proposed dates for reopening:
- 23 April: Hairdressers, beauty salons, outdoor attractions
- 30 April: All retail, self-contained tourist accommodation
- 10 May: Outdoor dining, drinking, swimming pools and gyms
- 14 May: Wedding guest receptions for 30 people allowed
- Not before 1 June: Indoor drinking and dining and full tourist accommodation
Hairdressers and close contact services
Up to 15 people from three household can meet outdoors from that date.
On 23 April, it is proposed close contact services such as hairdressers will reopen, along with outdoor visitor attractions.
Driving tests will also resume on that date and we can expect a return of competitive sport.
Self-contained tourist accommodation will be allowed to reopen on 30 April.
image captionNon-essential retail is likely to open on 30 April if proposals are agreed
Ministers propose allowing licensed and unlicensed premises to provide outdoor service with some restrictions on 10 May.
The curfew on takeaways and off-licence will also be lifted on that date and gyms will be allowed to reopen.
But the paper to be presented to ministers on Thursday also makes it clear there will be no return of indoor hospitality before the first of June.
How have businesses reacted?
Hospitality Ulster has branded the proposed reopening dates a disgrace.
“Our members and the wider industry are reacting very badly to the dates being suggested in the media this morning,” chief executive Colin Neill said.
“We have been told time and again that the reopening programme will be driven by data but that is obviously not the case and that industry leaders have been made a mockery of.”
The body said Mr O’Neill met Economy Minister Diane Dodds earlier on Thursday over the leaked dates.
It is understood that Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ministers want reopening dates for retail and outdoor hospitality to be brought forward.
BBC News NI understands that Mrs Dodds has raised concerns via a letter to the first and deputy first minister about the proposed dates, saying it was her preference for unlicensed premises to open on 23 April, followed by licensed premises with table service on 7 May.
It is understood the minister also wants wider hospitality, including hotels, to reopen on 17 May.
Businesses are clearly not impressed by the indicative timetable being proposed.
Hospitality businesses in other parts of the UK have already reopened or will do so before the end of this month.
Diane Dodds has written to her executive colleagues emphasising that she does not support the proposed dates for hospitality reopening.
She has upped the ante but Stormont sources have made clear that the leaked dates were always just proposals.
What we understand is going to happen is that other ministers will be prepared to look at those dates again, as long as the health advice is in line with that.
But it still may not go far enough for those restaurant and bar owners that have been closed for more than 15 weeks.
image captionEconomy Minister Diane Dodds has raised concerns via a letter to the first and deputy first minister about the proposed dates
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said there was “anguish and upset” over the proposed dates.
“We hope and trust that the executive will give these issues careful consideration when it meets today and, as ministers have pledged, they will be data driven and allow businesses, many of whom are in utter despair, better hope than this,” he said.
Glyn Roberts of Retail NI said the “fundamental problem” is that there is no “meaningful consultation” with the business community.
“All we’re saying to the executive is work with us, consult with us in terms of dates,” he said.
The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) said the proposed no-earlier-than 1 June date was “unacceptable”.
“Leaked dates for hotel reopening causing despair + disappointment in a sector devasted by COVID-19,” the body tweeted.
‘We just need to be careful’
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Council’s (BMA) Northern Ireland wing, said caution is still needed.
“I think we have to understand that throughout the world we haven’t reached peak pandemic. We just need to be careful,” he said.
Health Minister Robin Swann said on Wednesday that the time was right for the NI Executive to further ease restrictions, after some outdoor retail reopened on Monday.
He said giving indicative dates would offer people and businesses some greater optimism.
image captionGarden centres were allowed to open again from Monday
He highlighted the reopening of hairdressers and barbers, and the possibility of people “getting back to their caravans earlier” than initially thought.
People have been told to “stay local” and continue to work from home where they can.
Mr Swann has warned that “Covid fatigue risks itself mutating into Covid despair”.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told politicians on Wednesday that Stormont ministers are set to agree a timetable for reopening society that will cover a number of months.
She said she hoped the executive would be “able to sign off on dates”.
What is currently open?
Northern Ireland was the last part of the UK to lift its stay-at-home rule, which came into effect in January, in a bid to suppress a large rise in cases of coronavirus.
Currently, ten people from two households can meet up in private gardens and non-essential shops can resume click-and-collect.
The limit on the number of people allowed to attend a wedding, civil partnership or funeral has also been removed.
Venues instead will again have to assess how many people they can safely accommodate in line with a risk assessment.
Across the UK, the picture is looking very bright. This latest data has really given us, what Dr Michael McBride described as, headroom.
It is allowing for much greater flexibility and we’re able to open up some sectors a little sooner than we thought.
But on the other hand, the virus is still out there.
The way it was put to me is that before the vaccine, when we would have had 100 people testing positive, the likelihood was that 10 of those people would have ended up in hospital and possibly in critical care.
Now, with the vaccine, if 100 test positive, the likelihood is that one or two people would be admitted to hospital.
So that is the difference with the vaccine, but there is still a note of caution.
It is a hard one to juggle, and there are mixed views.
The challenge for the Department of Health and the NI Executive will be to maintain the message that people still need to keep socially distant and keep washing their hands, or it could go pear-shaped very, very quickly, particularly if travel opens up and a new variant comes on the scene.
Before you know it, come the autumn, you could be looking at hospitals affected again by a real jump in cases, and we don’t want that to happen again.
The rules allow a maximum of four people at a time to view a wedding venue, such as a hotel.
There were also further changes to the number of people allowed to play sport outdoors together from Monday, with groups of up to 15 people, including coaches, allowed to train together.
image captionGerry Keating, store manager of the St Vincent de Paul charity shop on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, getting ready for business
The Department for Communities has said five-a-side football training can take place “if organised by a club affiliated to a recognised governing body and with the appropriate protocols and mitigations in place”.
From Monday, anyone who was shielding and who could not work from home was permitted to return to their workplace provided appropriate public safety measures are in place.
Further updates for those shielding are expected to be announced as part of a wider lifting of restrictions.
Northern Ireland has moved at a slower pace than other parts of the UK in easing its lockdown, which began on 26 December.
But ministers have said the virus has moved at a different rate and they want to ensure the lifting of restrictions is managed carefully so Northern Ireland does not have to re-enter lockdown.
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