Stormont Executive review could bring forward next Northern Ireland reopening date
Northern Ireland’s next step out of lockdown could be brought forward if agreement can be reached by the Stormont Executive tomorrow.
The next reopening phase will see indoor hospitality open again, along with hotels and indoor visitor attractions.
The indicative date for the rule change to kick in, subject to tomorrow’s review, has been set as May 24 – exactly one week after pubs and restaurants open indoors in England.
But the News Letter understands there are some in the Executive who will be actively pushing for an earlier return date at tomorrow’s review.
Earlier this week, the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMO) – including Northern Ireland CMO Dr Michael McBride – agreed that the UK’s Covid-19 ‘alert level’ should be downgraded.
With more than two-thirds of the adult population of Northern Ireland now vaccinated, including more than a third having had both doses, coronavirus death and hospitalisation rates have fallen to just a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the year.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart is amongst those now urging the Executive to “reward” people for their diligence in driving down infection rates by reopening society.
“I think the Executive would be wise to reward people for their compliance,” she told the News Letter. “The fact is that the Covid alert has been downgraded, and daily you’re hearing of less Covid infections and fewer deaths.”
She continued: “I think the Executive would need to look seriously at moving on many of the outstanding restrictions.
“They need to recognise and reward people for their diligence, but also to continue with their messaging around public health generally.
“We need to get back to some form of normality. We’ve made great strides – we have visiting in hospitals, in care homes – and we now need to really move to the next phase and allow things to open up in their totality.
“Businesses have spent thousands, thousands of pounds getting their properties to a fit state and they need to be rewarded as well.”
Londonderry Chamber of Comerce, meanwhile, has urged the Executive to engage with businesses to avoid a repeat of the debacle surrounding the opening of outdoor hospitality at the end of April.
The industry body Hospitality Ulster said the implementation of the rules governing whether beer gardens and outdoor dining areas could be used had brought “chaos” to the sector.
Londonderry Chamber president Dawn McLaughlin said: “The Executive Office must give full and detailed clarification on what regulations will govern how our businesses can reopen on May 24.
“Everything must be done to avoid the incredibly frustrating situation that too many of our businesses found themselves in last week.”