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As we approach the end of our tenth week of restrictions, I would like to express our gratitude to those who have resolutely abided by the regulations.

We also pay tribute to the many individuals in the frontline battle against Covid and to those whose work and voluntary efforts have allowed Northern Ireland to keep functioning over this extraordinary time.

Last week, when we were joined by the Chief Constable, I made the point that how we continue to behave will determine how quickly we can make further relaxations.

We have to be careful. We have seen how other nations’ health services have been quickly overwhelmed by Coronavirus.

Each relaxation has an impact on the virus reproduction rate - the R rate - and too many relaxations, too quickly can push it back into territory we don’t want to be in.

The vast majority of the Northern Ireland public have been exemplary over the past two months - although we are still hearing too many anecdotal reports of groups of people not adhering to social distancing in public.

Traffic flows for Tuesday 26th were up 11.5% from the previous Tuesday but that is still 40.3% lower than a normal weekday.

Childline provided 16,644 counselling sessions between March 23 and May 10, for young people worried about their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic - that’s an average of one every five minutes.

We understand how important it is for everyone to see as much gradual progress towards normality as possible.

We also know how critical it is that we begin building towards a fully-functioning economy again.

Today the Executive considered the expert advice as part of our required three-weekly review of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Northern Ireland) Regulations.

As I have already said, every relaxation we introduce impacts on the R value and we can only make adjustments while R remains less than 1.

Thanks to the efforts the community has been making, the Executive has been able this morning to provisionally agree a series of measures which could come into effect from June 8.

These would permit small marriages and civil partnership ceremonies - outdoors, with the number attending limited to ten people.

People would also be able to attend to the needs of pets and non-farm animals, allowing the training of horses and visits to dog groomers for instance.

Outdoor sports courts would also re-open.

Hotels would be allowed to take bookings, and we are carrying out some further work around the broad tourism accommodation sector and their need for a general timeframe to work towards. We hope to be able to say more next week.

Rebuilding our economy will, of course, be an enormous challenge. The volume of UK retail sales in April fell by a record 18.1%.

There have already been 1,700 applications to the microbusiness hardship fund recently launched by the Economy Minister.

A Kantar survey has also found though that supermarket sales soared faster in the past three months than at any point in at least 26 years, with online orders accounting for 11.5% of all grocery sales. And takeaway deliveries are up 250%.

Much of the retail that has been possible up to now has been food-related. And that must expand, as soon as the science permits.

The Executive today approved the potential for outdoor retail, which includes examples such as car and vehicle sales, as well as agricultural and other large machinery to reopen.

The expert scientific advice is that the risk of the virus spreading outdoors is much less significant than indoors.

Also permitted to reopen will be large stores and retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits that are accessed directly from the street or via retail parks.

This will encompass stores selling household electrical appliances, computer and electronic equipment, mobile phones, and furniture and furnishing.

Physical distancing, however, will be essential.

The Economy Minister will provide further detail tomorrow on the preparations that stores will have to make.

As the Executive cautiously plots our path back towards normality, we must remain cautious about the spread of the virus. After all, we have still to see the full impact of recently-introduced relaxations.

So all the measures I have outlined will be introduced from the week beginning 8 June, provided that the R value does not increase above 0.9.

The Executive will provide confirmation on whether these relaxations can proceed following our meeting on 4 June.

As we move towards further relaxation, key Executive messaging will also focus on two themes from now on - Stay Safe, Save Lives and Work Safe, Save Lives.

Today’s announcement is a graduated step towards the reopening of all retail and if the R rate is controlled, further expansion can be considered over the next few weeks.

As I indicated last week, if people act in line with the restrictions, the more likely the R rate will improve resulting in more relaxations. If they don’t, we will not be able to do more.

The deputy First Minister and I recognise each change in the regulations always brings a flurry of individual queries. Consequently, the Department of Health is developing guidance for the public, for businesses, churches and community organisations to explain in clear terms what people can and cannot do. It hopes to publish this next week.

Contact tracing is another key component of keeping the virus under control.

To date, 99 Health and Social Care staff have been redeployed as contact tracers. In the seven-day period from the 19th to the 25th of May, 212

cases were contact traced, an average of 30 per day.

In an average eight-hour shift, each tracer carries out all the calls relating to 5 new positive cases and all of their contacts.

Further staff are to be recruited for a period of two years, including nurses and Environmental Health Officers, with health protection consultants responsible for the most complex work.

Finally, a decision on visiting people indoors was again deferred today on account of the risk of increase in the R value, and the Executive will consider the rest of Step 2 measures in the next three-weekly review by 18 June.

By making sacrifices, you have enabled us to regain certain basic freedoms. By sticking with it now and remaining patient, you will help us regain more.