Business leaders make plea for date to reopen the economy - ‘the next few weeks will be make or break’
Business leaders have urged the Stormont Executive to give clear dates this week for when the economy in Northern Ireland will be allowed to reopen.
With lockdown rules imposed to combat the spread of Covid beginning to ease from today in England, attention is now turning to local political leaders who are scheduled to meet on Thursday to review restrictions here.
It comes as the vaccination programme passed 1m doses administered at the weekend. There is also a limited easing of some lockdown measures here from today, with schools returning in full and outdoor retail and click-and-collect services resuming.
But the Belfast Chamber said there now needed to be a decision on dates for reopening set out this week.
Chief executive Simon Hamilton said: “Businesses in Belfast and across the region are looking to this Thursday’s review with the hope that the Executive will set out clear dates for the reopening of large parts of our economy which have been closed now for nearly four months.
“They are hopeful that this week will bring some much-needed good news. Their optimism comes from the fact that the Economy Minister has proposed reopening and also because the health situation is clearly improving to the point where ending the restrictions is more than justified and arguably overdue.”
Mr Hamilton continued: “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.
“Business owners and their staff will watch jealously as their counterparts in England reopen this week. They are wondering why, when the health situation here is comparable or even better than in Great Britain, they aren’t also reopening. 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.”
Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “Restoring click-and-collect is a long overdue and welcome development.
“It is a step toward the wider reopening of our high streets and will provide a much-needed lifeline for many local independent retailers whose businesses are on their last legs.
“This Thursday’s Executive meeting will be one of the most important ever for thousands of local small business owners.
“With over 1million vaccinations, falling hospital admissions and decreasing new cases of the virus, there is absolutely no reason why the Executive cannot greenlight the safe reopening of non-essential retail, hospitality and close contact services for April 26.”
“Retail NI is also concerned that the Executive is not doing enough preparation for the wider reopening of our high streets. Public hand sanitisers, Covid marshals and agreed Covid compliance signage for businesses, all need to be in place ahead of reopening. These next few weeks will be make or break for thousands of local small businesses”
Meanwhile the Department of Health said there had been one further death linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland and an additional 89 positive cases.
The Health and Education Ministers have thanked the public for their collective effort as schools reopen fully on Monday.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The reopening of schools is another step towards the normality that we all want to see. Many sacrifices have been made to get us to this point and I would like to commend the collective effort of the people of Northern Ireland for getting us here.
Education Minister Peter Weir said: “This is a significant milestone for our children and young people and for some it will be the first time in the classroom for many months.”