Coronavirus: Ministers to publish lockdown recovery plan

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The executive has already extended lockdown in NI until 28 May

The executive is set to finalise and publish a five-stage plan later on Tuesday for easing lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland.

For days, the parties have been holding detailed discussions about how and when some restrictions could be lifted.

It is expected the blueprint will be published at about 11:30 BST and will then be debated by the assembly.

Each step of the plan will be “incremental and cautious”, ministers have already stressed.

On Monday, Downing Street published a conditional plan to ease lockdown, but it mostly applies only in England.

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own powers to set and lift restrictions at different rates.

‘Sufficient flexibility’

In England, Boris Johnson has placed projected dates next to several phases of easing the lockdown, but Stormont ministers have insisted this should not happen in Northern Ireland.

The executive wants “sufficient flexibility” to allow it to make modifications in line with scientific advice, as opposed to setting dates that may need to be pushed back, if there is another spike in cases.

Ministers have already extended the lockdown in Northern Ireland until 28 May, so the earliest the recovery plan is likely to come into effect is the beginning of June.

On Monday, Sinn Féin junior minister Declan Kearney said the coronavirus regulations would continue to be reviewed on a three-week cycle and that any amendments would be informed by:

  • The latest medical and scientific advice
  • The ability of the health service to cope
  • An assessment of the effect on health, society and the economy

Why does the R-rate matter?

As the infection has spread at different rates in various parts of the UK, Stormont ministers have said Northern Ireland must follow its own criteria and scientific advice.

The R-value – or reproduction number – is at the heart of the executive’s decision to extend the lockdown until at least the end of May.

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The ‘Stay at Home’ message remains in place in Northern Ireland

The R-number shows how many people will get infected for every one person who gets ill.

In Northern Ireland, the R-rate is sitting just below one, at 0.8-0.9, and the executive has said it must remain at a low level before restrictions can begin to be lifted.

Will anything in NI change this week?

DUP junior minister Gordon Lyons has already stressed there will be “no dramatic lifting” of any measures in Northern Ireland any time soon.

There may be some minor changes announced by the executive that could take effect this week, on issues such as outdoor exercise and potentially some churches being allowed to facilitate individual prayer.

Other parts of the UK have already changed their advice around exercise, but in Northern Ireland the current advice remains to only exercise once a day by yourself or with your household.

From Wednesday, people in England will also be allowed to meet one person from outside their household as long as they stay outdoors and stay 2m apart.

There are also questions about how the Republic of Ireland’s recovery plan fits with what the NI Executive will announce.

The Irish government had already announced a five-stage detailed plan for bringing the Republic of Ireland slowly out of lockdown, beginning on 18 May.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share a 310-mile long border that many people cross each day for work or leisure.

At the start of the lockdown, it emerged that gardaí (Irish police) had been informed they had no enforcement powers over people from Northern Ireland, who may have breached Covid-19 regulations in the Republic of Ireland.

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