‘You can’t turn the economy off and on’: Business groups hit back at suggestion of yet another lockdown for NI

Business groups have stressed that the Northern Ireland economy “can’t be turned off and on” through repeated lockdowns.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 11th December 2020

Shoppers wearing face masks due to COVID-19 restriction pictured in Belfast City Centre. 

Lockdown restrictions continue across Northern Ireland along with the rest of Ireland and the UK due to COVID-19.

Restrictions are eased across Northern Ireland ahead of the Christmas period. Hospitality and retail are allowed to reopen with social distancing.

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 11th December 2020 Shoppers wearing face masks due to COVID-19 restriction pictured in Belfast City Centre. Lockdown restrictions continue across Northern Ireland along with the rest of Ireland and the UK due to COVID-19. Restrictions are eased across Northern Ireland ahead of the Christmas period. Hospitality and retail are allowed to reopen with social distancing. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Hospitality Ulster, Retail NI and others have spoken out against the prospect of further lockdowns after a leading doctor warned that a period of four weeks under heightened restrictions would be the “logical” way to deal with the current coronavirus infection rates.

Dr Tom Black, who leads the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, said during an interview broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster on Monday morning that the health service is facing a “nightmare” scenario in January and the “logical decision” was to go into at least another four weeks of lockdown.

But Stephen Reynolds, who owns the Front Page Bar in Ballymena and is chairman of the local business improvement district, said repeated lockdowns are not a sustainable solution.

“I would not wish to minimise the risks and I appreciate the difficulty of the situation facing the Nortehrn Ireland Executive,” he told the News Letter.

“But they need to understand that you can’t simply turn the economy on and off.”

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “We cannot keep locking down.

“The world health organisation say locking down should be a tool of last resort, and all we’re doing is last resort management — open, shut, open shut.

“The virus is spread by people, not businesses. If you look at the regulations that the hospitality are under, we are providing a safer place than people’s homes.”

He continued: “We can’t sustain repeated closure. And if we’re going to continue to keep the hospitality sector closed, then step in with proper compensation. They’re killing the sector.

“Where’s the track and trace? Where are the things that were supposed to keep this in check during the summer, when the levels of the virus were low. That was a missed opportunity and business is paying the price.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “I always do respect and appreciate the views of Dr Black and the BMA but this is very much a matter of personal responsibility.

“We’ve got to move on from the first response from the Executive being to shut down business.”