Northern Ireland news

One-metre rule more viable for hospitality industry, says minister

Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds at the executive's daily press conference. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA
Michael McHugh

ONE-metre social distancing would be "more viable" for the hospitality industry to operate under, Stormont's economy minister has said.

The DUP's Diane Dodds said she wanted to safely reopen pubs and restaurants sooner rather than later.

Businesses have been devastated by the enforced coronavirus shutdown since March.

Mrs Dodds acknowledged other countries had adopted guidance of one-metre social distancing – half that encouraged in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the executive's daily Covid-19 press conference, she said: "What we do in relation to these measures is guided by the science.

"It is absolutely clear that it becomes more viable for restaurants and hotels to operate under the one-metre guideline rather than the two-metre guideline."

Eight more coronavirus-related deaths were recorded by Stormont's health department, bringing its total number to 534.

In the Republic, three more people diagnosed with Covid-19 died, bringing the south's overall death toll to 1,659. The overall number of confirmed cases in the Republic increased by 47 to 25,111.

Meanwhile, a tourism chief said hotels have enjoyed a "huge" increase in bookings since the executive agreed to set an indicative reopening date of July 20.

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, added that tourists would not want to come if they did not feel safe.

"All of this will be driven by public safety being paramount and us being able to convince others that they can be content that it is safe for visitors to come," he said.

Meanwhile the head of Sport NI has said that huge sums of money are in the balance when it comes to restarting our most popular sports.

Antoinette McKeown said her organisation is working "on a means by which to quantify" the sums involved, adding it is "particularly problematic" with no date for the return of rugby, football and Gaelic games.

"For Ulster Rugby to return, for the Northern Ireland football league to return, for our GAA county clubs to return represents a huge amount of money," she told a Stormont oversight committee.

"In the absence of a date for return what we do know is that, for example, the Ulster GAA championship not going ahead this season will cost the Ulster GAA approximately £22 million.

"We also know that the IFA is a salaried organisation. It brings in a considerable amount of money to the Northern Ireland economy on an annual basis but it also has a wage bill of £3 million and that is particularly problematic when you don't have any gate receipts as a result of games not happening."

Giving evidence to the Stormont Communities Committee, Ms McKeown said it was "incredibly difficult to put a price on", in response when asked what funding is required.

Ms McKeown also revealed that she is hopeful of a £750,000 boost to an exhausted funding pot for sports clubs.

The Hardship Fund for Sport was launched by the Department for Communities to support sports clubs and organisations with £2,000 grants amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, high demand saw the fund close to new applications within days.

Stormont ministers meanwhile are today set to examine transmission data to decide whether the virus remains under enough control to give the go-ahead for a series of lockdown relaxations scheduled for Monday.

The plans include reopening more retail outlets and permitting for small outdoor weddings.

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