Northern Ireland news

Bars, restaurants and cafés to open to customers for the first time this year

Staff get set for reopening at the Morning Star Bar in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

INDOOR hospitality across Northern Ireland will today welcome back customers for the first time this year.

Restaurants, bars and cafés are allowed to operate indoors again in the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, which was formally signed off by Executive minsters last Thursday.

In a long-awaited day for many businesses across the north, Alliance leader Naomi Long yesterday said it was the "least contentious" easing of measures approved by ministers.

"These were the least contentious round of relaxation in terms of what we were proposing because I think all of us are very conscious of the huge sacrifices that the public have made, that businesses have made in order to be able to drive down transmission of covid," the Stormont minister told BBC Sunday Politics.

"Based on the evidence that was brought to us by the health minister, chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor we can see that the impact of the vaccination programme has been quite significant.

"Whilst none of us would be reckless in how we move forward, we still want to do that cautiously and responsibly, we are all looking forward to having that little bit more freedom and normality in our lives."

Other changes to the lockdown measures will today allow six people from two households to meet indoors in homes and stay overnight.

All tourism accommodation will be able to open their doors again today, while post wedding and civil partnership receptions are permitted, with no restriction on top table but a restriction of 10 at other tables.

Schools can resume extra-curricular activities, with indoor sports and outdoor inter-schools sports allowed.

Indoor visitor attractions can reopen, including amusement arcades, bingo halls, museums, galleries and cinemas as well as libraries.

All outdoor and indoor sport and leisure venues are permitted to open and indoor group exercise and training can resume. A traffic light system for foreign travel also takes effect with 12 countries on Northern Ireland's so-called "green list".

Health Minister Robin Swann said a "huge collective effort" had brought the north to the point where restrictions can be significantly eased.

But he appealed for people to "proceed carefully and enjoy this important step back towards normality in a responsible way".

"A huge collective effort has brought us this far and we must keep working together to protect the progress we have made," he said.

He added: "Today is a good news day for Northern Ireland - let’s all work together to ensure we don’t get dragged back again".

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "A lot of hard work has got Northern Ireland to the point where restrictions can be lifted in a controlled and phased manner.

"These restrictions have certainly saved many lives but they have come at a heavy cost to society. We are in much better place today but we must continue to guard against complacency."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news