Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland businesses would be `devastated' if second Covid-19 wave led to renewed restriction

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said hoteliers could know next week when they will be able to reopen. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

BUSINESSES in Northern Ireland would be `devastated' if a second wave of Covid-19 infections led to restrictions being re-introduced, Economy Minister Diane Dodds has warned.

"To rush forward then have to step backwards would be devastating for them," she told Stormont's daily media briefing.

"Businesses want to open safely in a structured way."

She said hoteliers could know next week when they will be able to reopen - insisting the sector should not be left at a competitive disadvantage to other jurisdictions.

The minister was speaking as a further six deaths were confirmed in the Republic, with the coronavirus death toll now 1,645.

There were also another 39 confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total in the jurisdiction since the outbreak began to 24,876.

In the Republic, hotels should be able to reopen on a limited basis from July 20 and in England, self-catering cottages, Airbnb properties, and UK campsites, hotels and holiday parks will remain shut until at least the beginning of July.

Hoteliers have criticised the Executive for allowing them to take advance bookings without setting a date for when they can reopen.

Ms Dodds said she is having "good conversations" with colleagues and will return to the matter next week.

"We don't want our industry to be at a competitive disadvantage to other industries in the British Isles."

She said North American tour operators have expressed "an excitement about visiting us", with tours planned for this year rescheduled for 2021, indicating the region will instead be reliant on UK and Ireland staycationers.

The minister revealed the north's air connectivity is a fraction of what it once was, with Belfast International Airport planning to lay off workers.

Mrs Dodds said while "we are absolutely hoping for the quickest recovery that is possible" there has been a "huge slump" in economic output and demand.

However, she promised viable businesses would be supported and the unemployed would be helped to re-skill.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said while primary and secondary schools in the Republic will return "at the end of August", it does not mean every student will attend for the full day.

He said reopening schools will not be a "no-risk" scenario but should be "low risk" and the government will be looking at research from around the world about the effect reopening schools has on the spread of coronavirus.

Children will be grouped into pods of between six and 12 when childcare facilities re-open on June 29 in the Republic to allow children to play in a "natural and spontaneous" way.

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Northern Ireland news