Health Minister Robin Swann has said a “huge collective effort” has brought Northern Ireland to the point where COVID-19 restrictions can be significantly eased.
And he has called for that commitment to be maintained to ensure infections do not start surging again.
The Minister said: “While necessary, COVID-19 restrictions have undoubtedly taken a massive toll on our community. Today will be an emotional day as we ease restrictions that have been extremely tough on families and businesses.
“I would appeal to people to proceed carefully and enjoy this important step back towards normality in a responsible way. A huge collective effort has brought us this far and we must keep working together to protect the progress we have made.
“The COVID-19 threat has certainly not disappeared, as the emergence of the latest variant of concern underlines. However, there are many steps we can each take to protect ourselves and others. That includes, of course, getting your first and second vaccine doses when your turn comes.
“Keep following all the familiar public health advice on social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering. And remember that you will be at particular risk in
crowded, cramped rooms, where ventilation is poor. Ventilation is even more important now that more indoor activities are permitted – a good supply of fresh air can help disperse the virus.
“Please keep following those restrictions that remain in place. This will help provide the breathing space we still need.
“We can enjoy the lifting of restrictions without abandoning caution and common sense. Today is a good news day for Northern Ireland – let’s all work together to ensure we don’t get dragged back again.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “A lot of hard work has got Northern Ireland to the point where restrictions can be lifted in a controlled and phased manner.
“These restrictions have certainly saved many lives but they have come at a heavy cost to society. We are in much better place today but we must continue to guard against complacency.
“The emergence of the B.1.617.2 variant is concerning and the emerging evidence indicates that it transmits more easily. COVID-19 variants all spread the same way – and following the tried and tested public health advice can stop it spreading.
“A Public Health England study has found the vaccines are highly effective against B.1.617.2 variant after two doses. This underlines the need for people to come forward for their first and second doses as soon as they are available.”