The Executive has outlined its pathway to a gradual easing of the current restrictions.
‘Moving Forward: The Executive’s Pathway Out Of Restrictions’ sets out a step-by-step approach to the relaxation of the current regulations.
A statement from the Executive said the plan builds on medical and scientific advances over the last year, which together with the collective action of citizens, has resulted in a reduction in levels of infection across our community.
"These advances include the expansion of the test, track and protect systems to target localised outbreaks and identify and respond rapidly to any new variants of concern; and the success of our vaccination programme, which has delivered a vaccine to more than 500,000 people since the beginning of December and is continuing to roll-out at speed across the adult population," a statement said.
It added that "we have made significant progress and there is much to be hopeful for".
However, it added, "we are mindful that the Covid-19 pandemic can be highly unpredictable and the situation is complicated by the emergence of new variants, which can spread even more easily between people.
"In moving forward, we must be cautious and measured. Our flexible framework outlines nine pathways each of which has five phases detailing the level of restrictions required.
"The sequencing of progress through the phases will be based on evidence, the prevailing public health situation and an assessment of impacts for people, for society and for the economy.
"This means that we may be in different phases across the nine pathways at any given time."
The Executive said that the public had "already begun our journey of gradual easements in some areas".
The statement continued: "The process of returning our young people to schools will begin with phase 1 on Monday March 8; and phase 2 on March 22. Subject to the levels of community transmission, the return of other pupils to school will begin immediately after the Easter holidays with the aim of all pupils returning to school as soon as possible.
"Each step must be informed by the impact of the last relaxation on community transmission and the R number. That’s why we believe a careful approach, taking one small step at a time and reviewing the impacts, is the best and safest way to move forward. While we understand that people want certainty, we cannot be bound by dates that would only serve to give people false hope.
"A rigorous monitor, review and implementation system has been developed to assess the impact of each phase of the relaxations and identify possible next actions.
"Businesses will rightly want time to prepare for reopening when the time is right to do so. Engagement with relevant sectors will be a core element of our four-weekly reviews, which will help to support preparations for Covid-19 safe environments.
"The first Comprehensive Formal Review will be held on 16 March and subsequent dates are 15 April, 13 May and 10 June.
"These should not be viewed as dates on which we will move to lift certain restrictions; rather, they are appropriate dates that have been identified to examine all relevant indicators.
"In line with the Executive’s guiding principles on the management of the pandemic all decision-making will be evidenced, proportionate, necessary and sustainable."