Stormont’s deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, said it was time to look forward in a hopeful way while recognising the huge risks that remained.
Ms O’Neill said on Tuesday: “Great care is still needed. That is why the executive has agreed today a careful, cautious and hopeful approach to existing restrictions and we will be publishing that later today for everyone to see.”
It would be driven by “health, community, economic data and analysis”, not hard dates, she said. Ms O’Neill said Stormont did not want to set “potentially unachievable dates” that will “only disappoint”.
The executive is committed to keeping the restrictions “only as long as is needed”, she said, adding that its plan “builds in time between key steps and relaxations”. Government departments will meet weekly to consider when the reopening steps will take place.
The plan focuses on nine sectors that are deemed “vital”: home and community; education and young people; worship and ceremonies; sports and leisure activities; work; retail; hospitality; travel and tourism and culture; and heritage and entertainment.
Although the pathway “recognises that there will be some adaptations in our lives”, Ms O’Neill said they hoped to reopen the education sector as quickly as possible, “for the sake of children and young people, for their education, for their wellbeing and for future aspirations”.
Ms O’Neill urged everyone to take a coronavirus vaccination when it is offered. “We all have hope for this year,” she added. “And together, we will get through this.”