Stormont told to set date for lifting of all coronavirus restrictions
The Stormont government has been urged to set an indicative date for the full removal of coronavirus restrictions – similar to the June 21 date for England.
Concerns about the spread of the so-called Indian variant of the virus in England have prompted some experts to call for the full reopening date to be pushed back.
But in Northern Ireland, where new coronavirus infections are continuing to decline despite the Indian variant having been detected here in a small number of cases, no date has yet been set for the full removal of all coronavirus restrictions.
Colin Neill chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, has said that if the public health data here continues to improve there should be “no reason” to persist with restrictions beyond June 21.
“Our cases are falling, while in Scotland and England they are going up,” he said.
Research is continuing into the public health impacts of allowing large-scale events, live music, removing social distancing restrictions and other mitigations currently in place across the UK.
Findings are due to be presented to the UK government in around a fortnight’s time.
Mr Neill said if the findings suggest restrictions could be safely removed then the Stormont authorities should move to dispense with remaining lockdown rules.
“Our position is that we have been waiting on the research from Westminster,” he explained.
“Those big football matches, for example, are not just about letting people in to see what happens. Those are scientific research projects.
“We have been waiting to see the results, which we believe the prime minister should get at around the 14th of June. If we are driven by the data and that research backs it up, there is no reason we [in Northern Ireland] should not remove everything on the 21st – or even sooner if things are progressing well.”
Asked if Northern Ireland could, or should, open up before England if the public health situation is more favourable here, Mr Neill said: “If the government are driven by the data, and the data says ‘yes’ then it should be yes.
“But we might find that in Northern Ireland there is a reluctance to go on our own ahead of the game. But if not before June 21, it should not be long after.”
He said remaining restrictions were still having an impact on the viability of businesses in the hospitality industry.
“We think we should at least have an indicative date. While people might say ‘at least you’re open’, it’s worth pointing out that we’re operating at somewhere between 50-60% of capacity”, he said.
“You don’t start to break even until around 70% capacity or above. We’re operating, at the minute, simply trying to break even as best we can.
“We can’t bring back all the staff until we’re up to full capacity. We have staff still on furlough.”