Hospitality and retail chiefs have welcomed the relaxation of some Covid-19 restrictions – but spoke out over the damage caused by them over Christmas.
A range of relaxations were announced following a meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday.
Some venues, including pubs and restaurants, will no longer have to demand Covid certification for entry; mandatory table service will be scrapped; the six person rule at tables will be axed; and night clubs will be allowed to reopen.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill described the development as a “welcome step forward … after crippling restrictions and closures imposed on the industry over the Christmas period”.
He said restrictions over the festive period had a devastating impact.
“The news today will herald a transition for the hospitality sector as it considers the next steps required to build back from lost trade and begins to recover from the last two years of restrictions and closures,” he said.
“Make no mistake, we have a massive task ahead.
“The latest trading survey published this week showed that the hospitality industry has never been in a worse position, with trading down over 96% since the same time in 2019.
“The survey showed the shocking reality of where the sector is and how the cycle of restrictions and closures has had a cataclysmic impact on businesses providing food, drinks and accommodation.
“Businesses responded that they were at breaking point, with many questioning if they will ever recover. This is a devastating evidence base showing how severely affected the sector has been due to the punitive restrictions and scapegoating of our industry.
“There is no doubt that the decisions today by the Executive will provide incredible relief to our industry, but it will come too late for some. The work only begins now in building back and pushing forward to reinstate hospitality as the £2 billion sector it once was.”
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts hailed the relaxations as a “significant step forward”.
“It is to be welcomed that the Executive has now set out a road map for the lifting of restrictions,” he said.
“Retail NI repeats our call for the Executive to set out a clear plan for the safe and timely return of public and private sector staff to their offices and workplaces.
“This will be a significant challenge and will require extensive planning but will be important to boost footfall for our high streets, reopening our economy and returning our society to as near as normal.”
Londonderry Chamber chief executive Paul Clancy urged people to support local businesses to help them recover.
“These are welcome steps by the Executive which will allow our hard-hit hospitality businesses to begin trading with more freedom and ease over the coming weeks and months,” he said.
“It’s important that, where necessary however, the Executive continues to support businesses which are struggling through no fault of their own.
“The speedy rollout of schemes like the Omicron Hospitality Payment is vital and we would encourage Government departments to work to ensure they are delivered as quickly as possible.
“We would again urge people to continue supporting local businesses and spending local as our small and independent traders get back on their feet.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub