Northern Ireland news

Masks expected to become mandatory for walking through pubs and restaurants

New restrictions mean no more than six people from two households can sit at a table outside a pub. Picture by Mal McCann.
Ryan McAleer

THE hospitality industry expects new regulations will require customers in pubs and restaurants to wear face masks when not at their table.

It is understood the new measure was due to be announced last Wednesday along with tighter new restrictions for licensed venues.

But it is believed that the move was delayed because it will need different legislation to enforce.

It comes as the executive is due to announce a decision on a curfew for the north’s licensed premises on Monday.

Hospitality Ulster has continued to urge ministers to align closing times with the Republic, with final drinks at 11pm and all customers out by 11.30pm. A 10pm curfew has already been enforced for pubs in England.

The trade body’s chief executive, Colin Neill, said: “We have a totally different culture. In England people go a pint and then go home.

“Here we go home and go out late. Rural communities, farmers, can go out at 10pm for a beer just to socialise.

“The Republic of Ireland it’s 11.30pm everybody out and we would hope it’s the same here,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

Professor of molecular virology at Queen’s University, Ultan Power, told the same programme that the decision to reopen pubs was “premature”.

He said: “At the end of the day we want to restrict people interacting with one another, not give them opportunities to increase.

“The more they drink, the less social inhibitions come into play and the more people will interact.

“Just in this period now, I think we need to be extraordinarily careful in how we need to proceed.”

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has called for clarity on the new regulations for pubs, including an amendment that has extended rules to outdoor tables.

It means no more than six people from two households can sit at a table inside or outside a pub or licensed restaurant.

“You can go into a coffee shop, three individuals from three separate households and have coffee, but you can’t come into licensed premises and have the same,” said Mr Neill.

He said if three work colleagues want to sit in a beer garden, the regulations require one of them to sit at a separate table.

Mr Neill said the new rules for weddings had also created confusion.

“If you had a religious service and a wedding in a church, you can have a singer. But if you had the same religious service in a wedding venue or a hotel, you can’t have a singer.

“They [civil servants] are working really hard, making legislation at speed, and there will be anomalies.

"But it’s important we go straight back and sort those out and work together to create a safe environment that will sustain jobs."

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