WATCH: First Minister hopes to be "long past" final step of COVID-19 plan by December

By Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said she hopes to be "long past" the final step of the Executive's plan for easing lockdown by December.

Frustration was expressed by some in the Northern Ireland business community when the five-step plan was announced without any time frame.

But Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill highlighted their determination to be led by the science, not the calendar, as they published their recovery blueprint on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, Mrs Foster said she hoped step five would have been reached "long before December 5'', a suggested date for post-primary school transfer tests.

"We will be past stage five by that time (December 5). I would be very much hopeful (of) that, unless there has been a second peak or a second wave of this," she said, adding that she hoped this was achieved "long before December 5".

"When we begin to move, we will be able to assess how the relaxation of the regulations are impacting on the R number and then, if they have impacted not in too much of a way, we can then wait a period of time and then move to the next relaxation," she said.

"This is a step-by-step process, it is a graduated process, and at all times we have to look at the prospect - and I hope it's not something that will happen - that we may have to move backwards again if the R number goes above one."

Mrs Foster made the comments to media during a visit to Pond Park Primary school in Lisburn, Co Antrim, which is open for children of key workers.

Pressed on whether step five of the Northern Ireland Executive's road map could be reached by August, in line with the Republic of Ireland's timeline, Mrs Foster responded: "It's no mystery that even though we have our own plans, the plans are similar.

"They are similar with the Republic of Ireland and they are similar indeed with the rest of the United Kingdom as well.

"I know people like to look at the differences between the plans and criticise us for not having dates, but if we had dates I think we would have been criticised as well from other people, so you have to take the balance and try to get flexibility built in."

Mrs Foster added: "We understand that these regulations are draconian, we understand that they have a big impact on people's lives, and therefore we don't want to keep them one single day more than we have to.

"If we get the medical advice that we can move, then we will move."

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