A business owner has welcomed the latest easing of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown.
A limited number of outdoor-focused retail outlets, such as garden centres and car dealerships, reopened on Monday, as well as click-and-collect services for non-essential retail, while remaining pupils returned to school.
Stormont ministers hope to announce further relaxations later in the week.
The Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital was de-escalated on Monday with remaining Covid patients to be cared for at the Mater.
Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir hailed the full return of all pupils to classes as a “very positive day for young people” during a visit to Sullivan Upper grammar school in Holywood, Co Down.
In Belfast city centre, Stephen Seenan, managing director of print shop Kopyright, welcomed being able to operate click-and-collect services.
“The past year has been quite challenging, to say the least, but we have adapted and today, thankfully, some restrictions are lifted and we’re allowed to open on a click-and-collect basis,” he said.
“We’re hoping to get a bit of custom back again, get people back on the street – they can call and they can email to place their orders.”
Earlier deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said progress in tackling Covid-19 had created the opportunity for further lockdown relaxations.
On Monday, no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for the virus were reported, and there were fewer than 100 new positive cases.
Ms O’Neill said she was confident the powersharing executive could agree a timetable for the reopening of more sections of society.
First Minister Arlene Foster has already expressed hope that opening dates for close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, and non-essential retail can be announced following the next meeting of the executive on Thursday.
The hospitality sector is also hopeful that it might get some good news, particularly on outdoor trading.
On Monday, the remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, returned to schools.
The “stay at home” messaging has been replaced with a “stay local” advice.
At the weekend, Northern Ireland reached the milestone of a million vaccine jabs having been given.
On the prospect of further announcements on Thursday, Ms O’Neill told BBC Radio Ulster: “I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the executive decisions on Thursday, but I think it’s fair to say that we’re increasingly confident in our ability to be able to make more progress.
“We have over the weekend, obviously, reached the one million vaccine mark, which was obviously very encouraging and gives us great hope that we’re making our way out of this pandemic.
“I think today is a good step forward in terms of our young people being back into our schools and a number of other areas obviously opening up.
“So I’m hopeful that by Thursday we’ll be able to announce dates for other things being able to open up because, for a combination of reasons, the factors look good where we have the headroom on which to be able to move.
“The vaccination programme being very strong, our ICU numbers coming down, the number of positive cases coming down – that all leads to a very encouraging situation, so I’d be hopeful that, with executive colleagues’ agreement, we’ll be able to announce dates.”
Mrs Foster reiterated her hope that dates can be provided on Thursday,
“I very much hope that we can give an indicative timeframe on Thursday because I think there are lots of people, for business reasons, for wellbeing reasons, they want to see that timetable and I hope that we can do that on Thursday,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.
Other relaxations on Monday saw the number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, increase from six to 10.
Outdoor sports training is 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 has also increased, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.
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