Lockdown leaving NI business owners ‘utterly devoid of hope’

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Many businesses in Northern Ireland have been left “utterly devoid of hope” by a lack of information on how and when they can reopen, according to local business leaders.

Although the NI Executive revealed details of a further relaxation of the Covid lockdown restrictions on Tuesday, there is still no indication of when bars and restaurants, non essential retail and hair and beauty salons can resume trading.

Across the rest of the UK, many businesses, such as hair and beauty salons have either reopened this week, or have a date set for reopening, subject to a continued drop in infection rates.

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Schools in Northern Ireland are also planning for a return, with pupils in years four to seven back in the classroom from Monday.

Belfast city centre remains in lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEyeBelfast city centre remains in lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Belfast city centre remains in lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Golf and other sporting activities will also be resuming, with certain restrictions in place, from April 1.

Simon Hamilton of the Belfast Chamber described Tuesday’s announcement as a “missed opportunity,”

Ex-DUP MLA and former finance, economy and health minister Mr Hamilton said: “[Tuesday’s] announcement by the Executive was utterly devoid of hope for businesses. Sadly, the Executive have, once again, missed an opportunity to offer businesses in Belfast and right across our region even indicative dates for reopening and allow them time to properly prepare for reopening.

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“Many are aghast that whilst our infection and hospitalisation rates compare favourably to Great Britain’s and our vaccination rollout programme is every bit as impressive, we are, seemingly, on the slowest of slow tracks to the reopening of our economy.”

Restaurateur Michael Deane said it would be helpful if the Executive was working with business owners to agree a way forward on safe opening, with certificates of compliance if necessary.

“We are walking the plank blindfolded,” he told the BBC’s Nolan radio show.

“I don’t think they care about hospitality, and that is the way we feel deep down in our hearts.

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“I know that my business is safe for people to come in to. We have all the social distancing, all the table plans, all the sanitisation. We have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to makes Deane’s a safe place to go, and we have been ignored.”

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI said shop owners also feel let down with the lack of information on how far the transmission and community infection rates have to drop before they can begin to prepare for reopening.

“No only did they get no dates, there was no data given for the reason. We got no dates, no timeframe, no nothing, so I have to say I’m bitterly disappointed,” he said.

Mr Roberts added: “Our members are spending millions making sure their stores are safe.”

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In Scotland, all shops, gyms and some indoor hospitality venues, are due to open from April 26.

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