Outdoor relief at last. The Executive surprisingly has agreed and premises where customers cannot drink alcohol and outdoor sports facilities will be amongst the first to open in their pathways out of the pandemic strategy.

There will be nine pathways and five steps and epidemiological data will be reviewed between each pathway to see if the next can proceed. 

The pathways will be sectors and, for example, non-essential retail ‘click and collect’ , driving instruction and church services will be permitted first.

New cases continue and vaccination proceeds apace but thankfully there were no new cases in the north east in the last week.

The Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the map as a "careful, cautious and hopeful approach to the existing restrictions...our aim is to find a safe, secure, sustained and understandable way forward". However, she cautioned that "it’s still too high a rate and there are variants," adding: "We stayed away from giving dates because I think that gives false hope and it builds up expectations."

The phases are
1. Existing lockdown
2. Cautious First Phase
3. Gradual easing phase
4. Further easing phase
5. Final phase and preparing for the future.

The nine sectors will be:
1. Home and community. Example: Meet with friends from one other household in the park.
2. Education. Example: Further education students and apprentices can attend more practical face to face classes.
3. Culture and entertainment. Example: Use library services but some activities e.g. group meetings may be limited.
4. Sports and Leisure. Example: Resume outdoor training at your local sports club.
5. Worship and ceremonies. Example: Have more people at a marriage or civil partnership ceremony.
6. Travel and tourism. Example: Travel further as stay at home messaging is relaxed.
7 Work. Example: Work from home unless you cannot do so.
8 Retail and services. Example: Click and collect for all remaining non-essential services.
9. Hospitality. Example: Meet a friend for lunch in a coffee shop.

The Executive will continually monitor a broad range of data, information and statistical indicators to inform decisions on whether to relax restrictions, or whether there is a need to return to strengthening them. The health trends will be based on the World Health Organisation’s conditions for adjusting restrictions.

These are:

  • Maintaining the R transmission rate below 1
  • Health service capacity
  • Test trace and protect data
  • Population immunity including vaccination progress
  • The emergence of more variants.

This is a sensible plan based on what the virus is doing and key review dates around which restrictions can be sensibly reduced.

We all should support it.