Coronavirus: Edwin Poots says timetable for business reopening would be useful

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The executive has not yet received scientific advice saying it is safe for local retailers to open

It would be useful for the executive to give some businesses in Northern Ireland a timetable for reopening, Edwin Poots has said.

But the agriculture minister added that the executive has not yet received scientific advice saying it is safe for local retailers to open.

In England, all non-essential retailers can open from 15 June.

The NI Executive has not outlined a timetable. Mr Poots said any further easing must be done cautiously.

The executive is due to assess the coronavirus regulations on Thursday, as part of its review carried out every three weeks.

Simon Hamilton, of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, has urged ministers to provide a similar outline to that provided for England by Westminster and for the Republic of Ireland by the Irish government.

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Edwin Poots said any further easing of restrictions must be done cautiously

“A timeline would allow businesses in all sectors to plan for their safe reopening,” he said.

“Hopefully the executive can give those in retail, hospitality and across the economy the certainty they need very soon.”

But Mr Poots stressed that ministers would not take any further decisions until they had assessed the latest advice from the chief medical officer.

He told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that they would be told what the impact of relaxing some lockdown measures is having on the R-number – or reproduction value, which measures the average number of people infected by one person with Covid-19.

Last week, Health Minister Robin Swann said the R-rate in NI was sitting at between 0.7 and 0.8.

On Tuesday, there were no Covid-linked deaths reported by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland – the first day since 18 March that this had happened.

Mr Poots welcomed that but urged against complacency.

“One swallow doesn’t make a spring,” he warned.

“Hopefully in the next week we can look at what we can move on next and how we can facilitate bringing back a degree of normality.

“But it will be challenging, and it has to only to be based on the scientific advice.”

Forest car parks reopening

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Forest car parks are reopening from Wednesday

Meanwhile, car parks are reopening at forest parks across Northern Ireland from Wednesday.

However, facilities at the parks, such as toilets or cafes, are not yet allowed to open.

“Our rangers will be there to ensure that there will be less cars in the parks to ensure social distancing and reasonable steps will be taken,” Mr Poots said.

“At this stage we cannot, much as we’d like to, because of shared surfaces, we cannot open toilets and cafes and the other facilities that people would associate with going to a forest park.

“What we now know is when people are outdoors there is little spread of Covid but there is considerable spread of Covid from shared surfaces.”

The forest service’s chief executive John Joe O’Boyle said people could eat at a picnic table as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.

“We will have staff at each of our sites and those staff will be keeping a close watch on the sites and making sure there are not too many people in a particular area at the same time,” he said

“In the event, for example, there are too many people at a peak time, we may just have to control the numbers getting into the park until the park frees up a little bit.”

BBC News

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