Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland, such as pubs and restaurants, will be allowed to open earlier than initially proposed as lockdown restrictions are eased, according to reports.

The BBC and the PA news agency have reported that the Stormont Executive has agreed to reopen outdoor hospitality from 30 April.

It is understood that licensed and unlicensed premises will be able to serve customers in outdoors settings in groups of six from no more than two households.

A plan presented to ministers earlier would have only allowed such premises to serve customers from 10 May.

First minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said on Thursday that Northern Ireland could look forward to a brighter future as they announced the plans for relaxing lockdown.

“This is a landmark day for Northern Ireland as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery,” Ms Foster said.

“I am pleased and proud that through our collective efforts we have reached a point where we have established a good level of control over the virus.

“We are now entering brighter and better times.”

Outdoor visitor attractions, close contact services, hairdressers and beauty salons will be allowed to reopen from 23 April, with outdoor competitive sport permitted with numbers not exceeding 100 people, according to PA.

Indoor activities, such as hospitality, visitor attractions and group exercise, will reportedly then be allowed from 24 May at the earliest.

With Northern Ireland having marked one million Covid-19 vaccine doses given out and with other key health and scientific indicators going in the right direction, ministers have agreed to move ahead with reopening at a faster speed than initially expected.

The country took some gradual steps out of lockdown on Monday, with a limited number of outdoor-focused retail outlets, such as garden centres and car dealerships, allowed to reopen.

The remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, also returned to school and the national “stay-at-home” guidance changed to “stay local”.

Another relaxation introduced on Monday saw the number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, increase from six to 10.

On Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann said the “scales were tipping” in favour of accelerating the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

He told an Executive press conference that he believed it was now time to proceed with a further easing, including some indicative dates.

Mr Swann warned that Covid fatigue risked “mutating into Covid despair”, adding that he wanted people to have more opportunities to meet up with family and friends outdoors.

“I can confirm that my department has now fed into the central process and whilst I will not pre-empt any decisions ahead of tomorrow’s Executive, I do hope the agreed review will show clear signs of positivity after it,” he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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