NI moving out of lockdown: Reopening date welcomed but travel rules branded ‘confusing’

The latest easing of lockdown for Northern Ireland has been welcomed but the Stormont government has been warned more still needs to be done.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 4:54 pm
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 14th January 2021 Passengers at Belfast International Airport in Co. Antrim. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

From Monday week (May 24), hospitality businesses such as pubs, cafes and restaurants can welcome customers indoors for the first time in months.

Hotels and B&Bs can also reopen from that date, along with libraries and museums, while up to 500 spectators will be allowed to watch sports outdoors.

An exception will be made for the Irish Cup final on May 21, however, with 1,000 fans allowed to attend.

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The news has been warmly welcomed by hoteliers and those in the hospitality industry looking forward to getting back to business.

But Hospitality Ulster has warned that there are still problems to be resolved such as the ban on live music and the strict rules around social distancing inside licensed and unlicensed premises.

Those in the travel industry have also criticised the rules around movement within the Common Travel Area (CTA) of the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

A change to the rules has been branded “confusing” by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF), and by the managing director of Belfast International Airport.

The Northern Ireland Executive agreed on Thursday evening that people will be exempt from quarantine requirements only if they have visited family or friends in the CTA, but not for other ‘non-essential’ travel within the area.

Graham Keddie, Managing Director, Belfast International Airport: “We are extremely disappointed by the NI Executive’s announcement yesterday. We are urging them to reconsider and remove the current restrictions around the Common Travel Area and implement a clear ‘green travel’ list in line with England and Scotland.

“The latest guidelines around the CTA are unclear and confusing for both the travel industry and passengers. Aviation has been devastated by the pandemic and without clear guidelines for travel we cannot rebuild to meet the demand that is anticipated in the coming months.”

Janice Gault, chief executive of NIHF, said: “The one glaring issue that has not been addressed in any logical manner is that of travel within the Common Travel Area. This is a matter that presents a considerable challenge for the hotel sector and the revised guidance creates further confusion and will be an impossible one to police or monitor. The removal of the essential travel ban is welcomed but the position as outlined, with exemptions, testing and self-isolation is a convoluted one.”

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster chief executive, said: “This decision to allow reopening on the 24th, whilst it’s to be rubber-stamped, starts the countdown clock in earnest. That’s a very positive thing.”

He continued: “Obviously there is a lot more work to be done — music is still not allowed and we need an early review date for that.”

Mr Neill also called for a review of social distancing rules.