Northern Ireland news

Demands made for 'roadmap' out of remaining Covid restrictions as warning comes that hospitality 'has never been in worse position'

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has demanded the Executive Office to provide a timeline for the easing of remaining Covid restrictions in the north.
Paul Ainsworth

THERE have been calls for a "clear and managed roadmap" out of Covid-19 restrictions as hospitality businesses face "severe damage" caused by ongoing rules.

Management of restrictions and the communication with the public over their responsibilities has been criticised by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who called for a plan outlining the easing to be made available by the Executive Office.

His call comes as a survey of hospitality businesses reveals one-in-four respondents has reported a fall in food and beverage sales of 70 per cent for the week commencing January 3. Hospitality Ulster has warned that the sector "has never been in a worse position".

Yesterday the north recorded another six Covid-linked deaths and 4,081 new cases. A total of 412 Covid inpatients were being treated in the north's hospitals, of which 28 were in intensive care units (ICU).

Mr Eastwood said the management of restrictions had been "grossly ineffective" and caused "unnecessary confusion".

"Delay, indecision and petty politicking has prevented the Sinn Féin/DUP first ministers from taking clear, communicable actions that would have provided certainty and a sense of leadership to people and businesses that need it most," he said.

"The next phase of our response to the virus cannot be more of the same. The executive needs a clear roadmap out of restrictions that is rooted in the latest available public health data. People need to know what will happen and when we anticipate it will happen. It must also include targeted support for those sectors which remain vulnerable to transmission."

Meanwhile, CEO of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, said dates must be provided for the lifting of restrictions, including the reopening of nightclubs.

"It is no exaggeration to say the hospitality sector has never been in a worse position with over 96 per cent of trade down from 2019 in food, drink and accommodation sales," he said.

"Almost a month on, and without financial assistance, severe damage has been done to the hospitality sector. The executive must now take swift action to remove these punishing restrictions and let our sector begin to build back trade and custom in the uphill battle to regain our place as a driver of the Northern Ireland economy."

The Chief Executive of the Belfast Chamber, Simon Hamilton, said the north must now follow the example of Scotland and Wales.

"Thankfully, the predictions of experts and some politicians about how hard Omicron would hit us were wide of the mark," he said.

"The effect on the businesses impacted by the restrictions that were introduced has been very real. With our concerns about Omicron now abating and businesses facing many other challenges too, ministers must move fast to remove those restrictions and amend their work from home guidance to help businesses to recover."

In the Republic yesterday, 5,767 new Covid cases were recorded, while there were 979 total Covid inpatients. Of those, 93 were in ICU.

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