Coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations: Pathway out of restrictions

The Northern Ireland Executive has published a planned pathway out of the current COVID-19 restrictions and set out the approach that will be taken over the coming months. The gradual approach to lifting restrictions will be informed by a range of evidence and data. This section sets out how decisions will be made in a safe and sustainable manner.

Pathway out of restrictions

The 'Pathway out of restrictions' was published on 2 March 2021 and is available at this link:

Priorities

The Executive’s strategic priorities are:

  • the health and wellbeing of citizens
  • societal and community wellbeing

and

  • economic wellbeing and revitalising the economy

Decisions will be guided by four overarching principles:

  • evidence-based: proposals for change or for keeping in place a restriction or requirement should be informed by the best available evidence and analysis
  • necessary: a specific restriction or requirement should be kept only as long as it is considered necessary to provide the right public health response to the incidence or spread of COVID-19
  • proportionate: the detrimental impacts on health, education, society and the economy that can reasonably be attributed to the restriction or requirement should be tolerated only as long as the risks associated with withdrawing or modifying it are assessed to be more severe
  • sustainable: communities and the economy need to be built back up in a way that builds resilience, is long-term focused, and viable

In applying these principles, the Executive will consider the impact of decisions across a range of factors, including:

  • health: rate of virus transmission and incidence; healthcare capacity (COVID-19 and non-COVID); population immunity and vaccination
  • community: mental health and physical wellbeing; education of children and young people; impacts upon vulnerable people
  • economy: impact on businesses/ sectors; impact on employees; availability of economic support packages

A staged approach to relaxing restrictions

The pathway outlines the phases to reduce and remove the restrictions that are currently in place.

Nine pathways have been developed, each of which has five phases:

  • home and community
  • sports and leisure activities
  • work
  • education and young people
  • worship and ceremonies
  • retail
  • culture, heritage and entertainment
  • travel and tourism
  • hospitality

Progress through the phases will be based on a range of evidence and will seek to balance the benefits with the potential impact on the transmission of the virus.

This means we may be in different phases across the nine pathways at any given time.

Keeping the suppression of the virus will be at the forefront of considerations across all phases and beyond.

Moving along the pathway

The course of the pandemic has been highly unpredictable and is likely to be so for some time yet. That is why dates for relaxations have not been set.

It will require a minimum of three weeks to assess the impact of each significant relaxation before further decisions are made.

This means there will be a four-week cycle for the Executive to review the regulations.

The Executive will continually monitor and assess the impact of relaxations and, after taking each decision, will pause and reflect on the health, societal and economic impacts before reviewing and moving to the next decision.

A broad range of data, information and statistical indicators will be continually monitored to inform the Executive’s decisions on whether to relax restrictions, or whether they need to return to strengthening them.

Health trends

Health trends will be based on the World Health Organisation’s conditions for adjusting restrictions and will include:

  • keeping the Rt number below one
  • health service capacity for COVID-19 and non-COVID
  • test, trace and protect data and intelligence
  • population immunity, including vaccination programme progress
  • emergence of new variants

Community factors

Community factors reflect the fact that we have all been living with the pandemic for some time, so the Executive will be monitoring the impact of decisions on areas such as:

  • mental and physical health
  • isolation
  • resilience
  • education impact
  • equality impacts
  • homelessness placements and use of temporary accommodation

Economic data and indicators are critical to making sure that decisions will have the best impact on starting the road to economic recovery, and will include:

  • overall and sectoral economic health
  • labour market performance
  • viability and financial vulnerability of businesses
  • availability of job support and business support
  • number of benefit claimants

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