Business leaders call on Executive to set out dates for reopening economy
Business leaders in Northern Ireland have called on the Executive to set out dates for reopening the economy.
The Belfast Chamber, which represents more than 700 businesses in the region, made the call after it emerged that a million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to date.
It comes ahead of the easing of lockdown restrictions on a limited basis on Monday, with schools to return in full and outdoor retail and click and collect services to resume.
The Executive is scheduled to meet on Thursday for a further review.
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said businesses were hopeful the meeting would bring “some much-needed good news”.
He added: “Their optimism comes from the fact that the Economy Minister has proposed reopening to her ministerial colleagues and also because the health situation is clearly improving to the point where ending the restrictions is more than justified and arguably overdue.
“Just this weekend we have learnt that more than one million vaccinations have now been administered in NI. This is an incredible achievement.
“Furthermore, key indicators such as our seven-day infection rate has fallen dramatically in recent weeks and so too have the number of hospitalisations and those occupying ICU beds.
“This all bodes well and is surely sufficient progress for the Executive to follow the example of England, Scotland and Wales and begin reopening retail, close contact services, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses.”
Mr Hamilton said business owners would watch in envy this week as retailers in England reopen, and argued that the health situation in Northern Ireland is “comparable or even better than in Great Britain”.
He added: “They are worried about what further delay in reopening will mean for jobs and the future of their businesses.
“The Executive must not miss the opportunity its review this week gives to set dates for reopening these beleaguered businesses, give them some hope and allow them to safely start trading again.”
A number of restrictions are set to be lifted in Northern Ireland on Monday.
The remainder of post-primary students, years eight to 11, will return to schools, after all other classes resumed before the Easter break.
The number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden, including children, will increase from six to 10.
The “stay at home” messaging is to be replaced with a “stay local” and “work from home” message.
Outdoor retail such as car dealerships and garden centres will reopen, and click and collect services will resume.
Outdoor sports training will be allowed for recognised clubs, in groups of up to 15, provided all indoor facilities except toilets remain closed.
People planning to get married or enter a civil partnership will be permitted to view potential venues for ceremonies at a limit of up to four people.
The number of people allowed to attend such ceremonies will also increase, at a level informed by a risk assessment for the venue.
There was one further death linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland on Sunday and an additional 89 positive cases, the Department of Health has said.