Restaurants, gyms, hair salons and pubs serving food are among the businesses allowed to start trading again under new regulations.
The ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown ended on Thursday just before midnight, but ministers warned against a ‘festive free for all’ and stressed the next weeks are ‘crucial’.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: ‘If people want to have a nice Christmas with their family, don’t ruin it by being reckless in the next number of weeks.’
It comes as parts of western Scotland also partially reopened today as areas including Glasgow moved from level four to level three of Covid restrictions for the first time since November 20.
The two week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in Northern Ireland was lifted last night, allowing non-essential retailers and some parts of the hospitality sector to reopen (pictured, Belfast pub)
Shops are also allowed to reopen in Glasgow (pictured, a shop in the city) today after the city was moved from Scotland’s highest level of coronavirus restrictions into tier three
Northern Ireland’s two week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown was imposed on November 27 and came just a week after the country came out of another short lockdown.
The second ‘tough, carefully timed, intervention’ was imposed in quick sucession after the number of infections rose rapidly as the lockdown came to an end.
The incease in the ‘R’ number sparked ministers to warn the country’s health service was in danger of being overwhelmed.
Northern Ireland has recorded 1,099 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.
But First Minister Arlene Foster warned the country should remain vigilant and the restrictions will be assessed week on week.
Speaking from Stormont, she said: ‘People have to realise that personal responsibility is the key issue here.
‘We have made provision that people can get together over Christmas, but they should do so in a safe way.
‘We are keeping a very close eye on where the R number is at.
‘We’ll be looking at it again next week, and the week after to see where we’re going with restrictions.’
Under new coronavirus restrictions published ahead of the lockdown being lifted, non-essential retail such as hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms can now reopen.
In addition to takeaways which were allowed to remain open during the first lockdown, other hospitality venues like restaurants and cafes serving food can resume trading.
First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured speaking as she announced the lockdown) said: ‘We have made provision that people can get together over Christmas, but they should do so in a safe way’
But ‘wet pubs’ that do not serve food must remain closed for the foreseable future.
Churches, which were closed to all but individual prayer and wedding and funeral services were capped at 25, are allowed to reopen but must close no later than 11pm.
Up to 500 spectators will now be allowed to watch outdoor sporting events after matches were allowed to resume at all levels.
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann said the easing of restrictions did not mean a ‘festive free for all’
But some of the changes come with additional restrictions.
Visitors will have to book appointments for salons, while gyms are open to individuals but classes remain cancelled.
The rule of six also still applies and households are banned from mixing indoors, unless in exceptional circumstances.
The restrictions are expected to be partially eased on 23 December for five days in order for people to celebrate Christmas.
Scotland also saw changes in its coronavirus restrictions on Thursday.
Non-essential shops in 11 council areas are allowed to reopen for the first time in three weeks, but pubs and restaurants are not due to open again until tomorrow.
Glasgow is one of the areas moving down from level four of Covid restrictions – the highest level in the country – to level three.
Following a reduction in case levels Inverclyde, Falkirk and Angus council areas will also downgrade from level three to level two, while Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders will be lowered to tier one from today.