Hundreds of customers queued outside branches of Primark in Northern Ireland this morning as non-essential retail reopened.

Long queues outside the fashion stores snaked around the streets of Derry and Belfast.

Primark on Castle Street in Belfast, opened earlier than planned, at 7am, to manage social distancing due to the large number of customers waiting outside.

PSNI officers arrived to manage the crowds and moved queuing to another street with more space for distancing.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said non-essential retail in the Republic is scheduled to reopen on 17 May.

Pubs, cafés and restaurants in Northern Ireland are also reopening for outdoor service today.

Six people from no more than two households will be able to eat and drink outdoors at licensed and unlicenced premises, under the measures announced by the Stormont Executive earlier this month.

Gyms and swimming pools will also reopen for individual training.

This is the next phase of reopening businesses and society after public health restrictions were put in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

There will also be a further relaxation of the numbers of people who can meet up outdoors.

A maximum of 15 people from three different households can now gather in a private garden.

This is an increase from ten people from two households earlier in April.

It comes as one more person with Covid-19 died in Northern Ireland and 108 new cases of the disease were reported today.

There are 60 confirmed Covid-19 patients in hospital, with eight in ICU, four of whom are on ventilators.


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This was the busy scene outside Primark in Derry

Also today, the curfew on the sale of alcohol is being lifted as part of the easing of restrictions and domestic tourism within Northern Ireland will also get a boost.

"Self-contained" tourist accommodation such as caravans and self-catering apartments will be allowed to take guest bookings once again.

However, B&Bs and hotels remain closed.

The Executive indicated that 24 May would be considered as a possible date for their return.

This is also the expected date for the return of many other indoor activities.

This includes the reopening of indoor visitor attractions such as museums, galleries and cinemas, indoor sports training, and domestic indoor gathering.

It is also the date when pubs, cafes and restaurants anticipate being able to serve customers inside.

The previous phase of lifting restrictions was just a week ago, when personal services like hairdressers, barbers and beauticians reopened.

Before that, outdoor non-essential retail like garden centres and car washes, click and collect for indoor shops reopened on the 12 April.

So far in Northern Ireland, more than 1.3 million vaccine doses have been administered to people.

This includes 935,000 first doses, and 377,000 second doses.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said it was a good day for Northern Ireland's economy.

She welcomed confirmation that the Executive's high street voucher initiative will be rolled out in the summer.

"Today's a really good day for the economy," she said on a visit to the Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast.

"Our shops are opening, our hospitality is able to open outdoors, our self-contained accommodation is opening, we're announcing the high street voucher scheme.

"1.4 million people in Northern Ireland will be entitled to a prepaid card, which will give them £100 to spend in the shops, it's an investment in local businesses, in local shops here in Northern Ireland."

Mrs Dodds added: "This is a huge investment in the high street, in retail because retail has suffered enormously during the pandemic, and with this almost vicious cycle of lockdowns."

The High Street Stimulus (HSS) scheme rollout was postponed following a sharp spike in cases in December, which resulted in a fresh lockdown.

As more economic wheels started turning, Health Minister Robin Swann announced that the vaccine programme is now open to the 30-34 age group.

Some limited appointments for people in that cohort will be available at the mass vaccination centre at Belfast's SSE Arena.

Additional reporting: PA