LISTEN: Stormont Ministers to publish lockdown exit plan on Tuesday

By Michael McHugh, PA and Q Radio News

Ministers in Northern Ireland aim to publish their plan for exiting lockdown on Tuesday, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

She said restrictions on outdoor activities would be eased before indoor ones.

The DUP leader told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme the position around when to reopen schools has not yet been decided but suggested it could be in late August or early September.

Mrs Foster said: "We looked at our medical evidence here in Northern Ireland and decided that, for the public health of the people of Northern Ireland, that we proceeded to reimplement those (coronavirus) regulations whilst at the same time looking at a road map for our destination to the new normal.

"I don't think there is any surprise at all that we are trying to make sure that that plan comes out, hopefully tomorrow if we get signed off."

The coronavirus response has been the first major test of a powersharing administration at Stormont which was restored in January after a three-year hiatus.

The First Minister added: "The whole point of devolution is the fact that we can have localised solutions within a UK framework and I think that that is what we are doing across the UK at the moment.

"The reason for that, of course, is that the transmission of the virus is different in different parts of the UK, therefore we should deal with the virus in the way that we need to deal with it here in Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster's partner at the head of the Government, Deputy First Minister Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, has said schools should not reopen until September.

(Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill)

Mrs O'Neill also told Q Radio the executive plans to publish it's recovery roadmap tomorrow. 

"I think it is important that we're very clear with people that our message here is still to stay at home. 

"The rate of infection here is still at a level where we have to keep doing what we're doing. 

"So, nothing has changed for now. We need people to keep following the public health advice and tomorrow we intend to publish our exit plan to give people the light at the end of the tunnel."

(DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots)

Edwin Poots, another DUP member of the ministerial Executive in Belfast, has suggested garden centres could be reopened and social distancing managed during some church services.

On Monday, Mrs Foster said allowing outdoor activities before indoor events made sense given how the virus spread.

"We will be able to move faster to allow outdoor activities than large gatherings inside.

"I think what we need to do is take a graduated approach to this.

"This is novel coronavirus and therefore that means it is completely new, therefore we have to listen to what our experts are telling us about transmission of the disease, and in doing so plot a graduated plan forward, a safe plan, so that we can move to a new normal where people can take part in work, they can take part in society again."

The Irish News, a Belfast-based newspaper, has reported the exit strategy will be based on a five-point plan but will not be date specific.

It added the road map for easing restrictions could begin its roll-out by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Steve Aiken told Q Radio, Northern Ireland is not in a position to be easing lockdown restrictions.

He said the NI executive won't be following the Prime Minister's lead of changing its message from "stay at home" to "stay alert". 

Mr Aiken also confirmed the executive expects to publish its recovery roadmap tomorrow. 

He added the plan must be measured by medical and scientific advice, not dates. 

(Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken)

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