Northern Ireland accelerates lockdown exit plans


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© Reuters. Easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Belfast

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BELFAST (Reuters) – Northern Ireland will open outdoor dining from the end of April and hotels from late May, the British region’s government said, in an acceleration of its lockdown exit plans that will see it reopen its economy far faster than neighbouring Ireland.

All retail, outdoor restaurant and bar services and gyms will open on April 30, the Northern Ireland Executive said after earlier indicating they would open later in May.

Indoor dining and hotels will follow suit on May 24, subject to COVID-19 infection rates, the executive said in a statement.

“We are now entering brighter and better times,” Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster told the regional assembly in a speech to announce the new plans.

Ireland, which has given first COVID-19 vaccine doses to around one-fifth of the population compared to three-fifths in Northern Ireland, plans to begin the phased reopening of retail in May with parts of the hospitality sector to follow from June.

Differences in rules on either side of the open border have in the past raised fears of large numbers of people crossing to avail of services and undermining public health measures.

England, which has also given first vaccine doses to around two-thirds of its population, reopened all shops, personal care premises and outdoor dining this week.

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