Northern Ireland news

It could be 'lights out' for many businesses amid stringent coronavirus restrictions

Coffee shops reopened yesterday, but only for one week. Picture by Hugh Russell

IT could be "lights out" for many businesses across Northern Ireland, as traders warned that the latest stringent coronavirus restrictions could plunge many over the edge.

In what was described as a "serious blow", business owners warned that the decision by Executive ministers to bring tighter Covid-19 restrictions could bring "catastrophic" consequences.

Despite some shops, such as cafes and hairdressers reopening today, the move will be short-lived as stricter measures which will see them close again will come into force next Friday.

Non-essential retail, close-contact services like hair and beauty salons and driving lessons, restaurants and churches must close their doors again under the latest plan to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Takeaway hospitality will be allowed.

The announcement heaped further disappointment on the hospitality industry, which includes pubs, restaurants and hotels, with its plans to re-open next Friday pushed back.

Business leaders criticised the Stormont Executive, which was described by hotelier Bill Wolsey as a "coalition government run by numbskulls".

Darren Gardiner, owner of Ground Espresso Bars chain, also queried the logic of reopening for one week.

"It's going to drive so many people out into hospitality as opposed to a nice gradual approach that allowed us to service customers' needs and requirements between now and Christmas," he told PA.

"Everyone is going to go out and everywhere is going to be packed, there will be queues everywhere, the shops are all going to be busy as people race to get Christmas shopping, and we just can't see the logic in it."

His comments came after Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she had questioned the reopening of cafes and close contact businesses.

"I believe that it is contradictory in a sense, because you are telling the public, and rightly so that we are in a very difficult situation, and our healthcare workers and our healthcare system is under huge pressure, and we need to intervene.

"But at the same time, you’re allowing businesses to open this morning.

"I put that to the health minister very bluntly, very clearly, and was told they were content that this was okay, that this was factored into the modelling which they had brought in front of us."

David Gough, who owns Newton Brunch Bar in east Belfast, said the latest announcement was "devastating".

He said the "constant changing of the rules" is "killing businesses", and urged Stormont to ensure financial support is paid out.

Janice Gault of the NI Hotels Federation warned that further lockdown measures could mean some hoteliers "won’t be able to open again".

Meanwhile pubs are also on a "knife edge" with many at risk of permanent closure, according to Ruth Sloan of Campaign for Real Ale NI.

"Many just don’t know how they are going to make ends meet during the tough weeks and months ahead," she said.

"Whilst we all understand the need to control the virus, this announcement comes as a bitter blow to pubs and pub goers in the run up to what would be their busiest time of year.

"The current financial support for pubs just isn’t enough to save many of them from permanent closure."

Michael Henderson from the NI Takeaway Association also said his industry is at "grave risk" and said without financial support for the takeaway sector he "believed around a quarter of all takeaways in Northern Ireland will close resulting in a loss of over 2,000 jobs."

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