The Stormont Executive has reached agreement on further relaxations to Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Announcing the changes, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said Northern Ireland can look forward to a brighter future.

From 23 April, close contact services such as hairdressers and beauty salons can reopen, as can outdoors visitor attractions

From this date, driving lessons can also resume, as well as theory and practical driving tests.

Outdoor competitive sport will be allowed with numbers not exceeding 100, while no spectators will be permitted.

Equine assisted learning and therapy can also take place both outdoors and indoors from this date, but will be limited to 30 people.

From 30 April, ministers have agreed that all remaining non-essential retail can reopen.

From here too, the limit on outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens will be increased to 15 people from no more than three households.

Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can operate from this date.

Licensed and unlicensed premises will be able to serve customers in outdoors settings in groups of six, but from no more than two households.

Also from this date, the curfew on takeaways and off licences will be removed, while gyms can also reopen.

From 24 May, which serves currently as an indicative date, licensed and unlicensed premises will be allowed to operate indoors.

Domestic gathering indoors is set to be permitted, while indoor visitor attractions can reopen.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues from this date, while there will be a return of indoor group exercise, with numbers limited to suit the size of venue.

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Mrs Foster said: "This is a landmark day for Northern Ireland as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery.

"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.

"This balanced package of relaxations will restore those familiar aspects of everyday life that have been missed dearly.

"I urge everyone to stay with us and keep following the health advice so that we can continue with our plans to more fully open up our society over coming weeks."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Today, the light at the end of the tunnel has just got a little bit brighter.

"This is a day of positive progress. We have agreed a significant package of easements which will make a fundamental difference to people's lives and well-being.

"The restrictions have been a necessary response to the pandemic, to supress the virus and save lives.

"But they have taken their toll on people right across our society. I'm delighted that we are now in a position to move forward, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the public and the success of our vaccination programme.

"We can all take comfort from this progress and look forward to doing the things that are important to us while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible."

From last Monday, some restrictions were eased to allow outdoor retailers such as garden centres to reopen and all schools in Northern Ireland fully reopened.

The number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, increased from six to ten.

Click-and-collect services for non-essential retail also resumed.

Outdoor sports training was allowed for recognised clubs, in groups of up to 15, provided all indoor facilities except toilets remain closed.

The number of people allowed to attend marriage and civil partnership ceremonies also increased, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.

With Northern Ireland having marked one million Covid-19 vaccines by last weekend and with other key health and scientific indicators going in the right direction, ministers have made clear they are now in a position where indicative dates can be provided.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he believes the time is right to lift some measures, but warned it is not without risk and that people need to remain careful and vigilant.

He said he wants people to have more opportunities to meet up with family and friends outdoors in as safe a way as possible.

"It should also mean getting the hairdressers and barbers back to work, as should it mean more businesses opening and considering even people getting back to their caravans earlier than we would have thought feasible only a short time ago," he said.

Two further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland today.

Another 159 cases of the virus were notified by the Department of Health.

This morning, there were 76 patients with the virus in hospital, eight of whom were in intensive care.