Northern Ireland news

Restaurant owner sad to not open for those in need at Christmas due to Covid

Luthfur Ahmed of Bengal Brasserie in south Belfast who plans to donate meals on Christmas day to the Simon community for the homeless. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire 

A south Belfast restaurant owner has announced with “great sadness” the decision not to open for those in need on Christmas Day due to the latest Covid-19 surge.

Bengal Brasserie owner Luthfur Ahmed said the rising case numbers forced him to rethink his festive tradition of offering free Christmas lunches.

Instead he is set to deliver meals to the local branch of the charity Simon Community.

Wednesday saw the highest number of new Covid-19 recorded in a day in Northern Ireland to date.

The Stormont Executive announced new measures including the closing of nightclubs from Boxing Day and prohibition of dancing in hospitality venues.

Covid certification also remains a requirement for entry to some hospitality venues.

Mr Ahmed told the PA news agency: “This decision is made with a heavy heart.

“For many years, we opened our doors for Christmas Day lunches for people less fortunate than ourselves who were perhaps spending Christmas alone. It is a great sadness that we have now decided not to go ahead with this event.

“Last year, the pandemic put paid to our Christmas Day plans but the year before, we did more than 130 lunches, and we were delighted to have been able to lend a helping hand and bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Mr Ahmed said the rising Covid rates and Covid certification requirements would have made it impossible to proceed with the event this Christmas Day.

“Not everyone has the required proof and that would create enormous difficulty for us to ‘police’ at the front door,” he said.

“We will do a limited number of lunches which will be supplied to the Simon Community.

It’ll be a big takeaway with a range of selected dishes from our Bangladeshi main courses to choose from.

“We’re really sorry to have to take this course but under the circumstances, we had no other option left open to us.”

Ciaran Corr, communications manager at Simon Community NI, said the donation will go a long way to provide festive cheer this Christmas.

“Thank you to Luthfur and his staff for choosing our charity as the lucky recipients of their Christmas lunch giveaway,” he said.

“Our team at the Foyer are always looking for new and different ways to get young people staying at the project to socialise with one another and food is always a popular choice.

“The donation of a Bengal Brasserie bumper takeaway will go a long way in providing some festive cheer to our clients this Christmas.”

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