Growing calls for executive to respond to rapid rise in business closures

Chairs on the tables of a restaurant forced to close during lockdown to control COVID-19 pandemic, Cambridge, UK

THE Executive is being urged to consider new measures to allow hospitality and retail workers to use Covid-19 testing to return to the workplace.

It comes as a rising number of businesses across the north are being forced to close due to staff testing positive or being forced to isolate due to close contact notifications.

The first and deputy first ministers are due to meet Hospitality Ulster this morning to discuss a potential way forward.

The trade body’s chief executive Colin Neill said many businesses are taking a severe financial hit with no support in place.

“It’s having a huge impact and it’s growing rapidly,” said Mr Neill.

The north’s hospitality sector is already struggling to fill vacancies following an eleven-fold rise in job listings in recent months.

“There’s a shortage of staff for numerous reasons, which means you can’t run two separate teams on separate days,” said the hospitality chief.

“We’re now seeing repeated closures. They get open for a couple of days and they have to shut again.

“There’s no financial help for that, so they’re worse off than they were during lockdown.

“We need a change in the isolation rules. For fully vaccinated staff we need a test to remain at work, for partially vaccinated staff, a test to return to work.”

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI says it’s an escalating situation, with serious staff shortages right across the supply chain.

“We are hearing from members who are on the verge of closing their stores and are running short on a number of product ranges,” he said.

Live music venues

Meanwhile the north’s entertainment industry has welcomed the Executive’s decision to permit live music at seated and socially distanced indoor events without any restriction on volume.

But there’s some frustration within the sector. Joe Dougan of Limelight Belfast said the events company cancelled six live music shows in the Ulster Hall planned for this week at substantial cost due to the delay in the Executive confirming its proposed relaxations around music.

He said those events could have gone ahead if the decision had been made last Thursday as originally planned.

Joe Dougan of Limelight Belfast.

“I think it’s great news and it’s another step towards relative normality," he said. "Unfortunately, we’re now left in a position where we have the ability to stage indoor concerts, but we have nothing scheduled.

"Everything we had scheduled has been cancelled.

“It’s a really unfortunate position to be in and it does feel like a mismanagement and it was entirely avoidable."

The events promoter added: “Most of us haven’t traded in 16 months, but additionally, we are competing against sold out capacity rivals in other parts of the UK.

“So it’s very important that we get business back up and running as soon as possible, so these international acts can continue to consider Belfast as somewhere that’s good to go.”

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