Owner of locked-down restaurant furious at non-socially distanced crowds outside

A Lisburn restaurant owner has expressed deep frustration that the public was allowed to gather without social distancing outside his premises while he is forced to stay closed due to the pandemic.

Mr Higginson said members of the public were queuing in non-socially distanced fashion to use the council Christmas light tunnel, which is circled in green.
Mr Higginson said members of the public were queuing in non-socially distanced fashion to use the council Christmas light tunnel, which is circled in green.

Stevie Higginson, owner of the Square Bistro on Lisburn Square told the News Letter is currently closed as part of the province wide bid to bring down Covid infection rates.

“And yet on Tuesday night there was a major crowd outside the restaurant using the tunnel of lights.”

Members of the public walk through a large tunnel made up of wire hoops in the square and as they do so, music plays and the lights change in timing with the music.

The display is part of the annual Christmas Festival of Light run by the council.

“People were queuing up to get into the tunnel but there was no social distancing. And there was nobody from the council there to control access to it, perhaps they were short of staff.

“The issue is that this is the start of December and normally we would be very busy. We have spent thousands of pounds in Covid-proofing our restaurant and have run a very tight track and trace system since we reopened at the end of July until October. And there was never any sign of any infection.

“Business was good even though we were down to 50% capacity due to social distancing. It was busy enough, especially at the end of the summer when we had customers sitting outside.”

He has major support on Facebook for his views that he should have been forced to close, he says.

“We are praying that there will be an announcement now that we will be allowed to reopen as planned on December 11.

“But we really need to know immediately as it takes about a week to prepare stock levels and ensure staff are in place. Otherwise there needs to be support in place for us.”

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council responded that a range of health and safety measures were implemented to ensure that people could enjoy the lights safely, at a social distance and in their family or social bubbles.

“Council Officers are on the ground in the city to provide direction, assistance and to support the implementation of the various safety measures,” a spokeswoman said.

“Signage is in place promoting the relevant health advice. We have also been working closely with the PSNI who have been assisting and advising on these matters and who generally have a presence in the city at this time.

“The operation of the animated light displays has been kept under continuous review. We are aware of commentary on social media about a recent gathering and are looking into this matter further.

“We are currently monitoring attendance at the lights. In addition, we are reviewing the light schedule and are considering making some modifications if necessary. The safety of people in our city is of paramount importance.

We would remind everyone who visits Lisburn to please be safe and follow the guidelines.”

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