NI speeds up reopening amid claims Republic is at an ‘advantage’

Businesses in Border areas urge Executive to ‘accelerate the reopening’ so they can trade equally

The North’s economy minister, Diane Dodds, said the Northern Executive had agreed to further relax the coronavirus restrictions provided retailers could adhere to the necessary safety measures and there was no increase in the spread of the virus by Thursday.  File image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

The North’s economy minister, Diane Dodds, said the Northern Executive had agreed to further relax the coronavirus restrictions provided retailers could adhere to the necessary safety measures and there was no increase in the spread of the virus by Thursday. File image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

All non-essential shops with their own entrance on streets or retail parks in Northern Ireland will be allowed to reopen from Friday.

The North’s economy minister, Diane Dodds, said the Northern Executive had agreed to further relax the coronavirus restrictions provided retailers could adhere to the necessary safety measures and there was no increase in the spread of the virus by Thursday.

Northern Ireland recorded no coronavirus-related deaths for the second day in a row on Monday, according to the North’s Department of Health (DoH). The total number of fatalities reported by the DoH remains at 537.

Of the 959 individuals tested for Covid-19 in the most recent 24 hour period, only six tested positive for the virus.

A number of large non-food retailers such as car showrooms and department stores reopened in the North on Monday. Plans for the reopening of indoor shopping centres will be discussed at a meeting of the Executive on Thursday, as will the possibility of allowing people to meet family and friends indoors.

The Executive is also considering the “bubble” concept, which has been used effectively in New Zealand to allow small groups to meet inside.

The head of external affairs with the Federation of Small Businesses, Roger Pollen, said small retailers would be “relieved that they will soon be permitted to reopen their business, and play their part in re-starting the economy.

“We would also urge the public now to get behind our smaller businesses, not just by giving them their custom, but also by respecting the necessary restrictions they will have to put in place in order to operate safely.”

However, there has been criticism from some industry bodies over the relatively slow pace of reopening in the North compared to the Republic.

On Monday, businesses in Border areas called on the Northern Executive to “accelerate the reopening” of the retail and hospitality sectors to allow them to trade on an equal basis with businesses across the island.

‘Competitive disadvantage’

In a joint statement issued along with their counterparts in Belfast, Derry and the North coast, Colm Shannon, the chief executive of Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade, said that with hotels, pubs and restaurants in the Republic due to reopen on June 29th, hospitality businesses, particularly in Border areas, were at a competitive disadvantage.

“July is the peak season and if the southern hospitality sector is allowed to trade from June 29th, our hotels, restaurants, pubs and B&Bs will suffer further losses,” he said.

“Many families will have to stay at home for their holidays this summer and our hospitality sector needs the opportunity to compete for this staycation business.”

Speaking at the Executive’s daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, the first minister, Arlene Foster, said ministers would be “flexible” about reopening pubs, restaurants and hotels. Hotels in Northern Ireland have been given an “indicative date” for reopening of July 20th.

“If we can move forward in relation to tourism, in relation to the opening of hotels, caravans, all of those things that we’ve talked about, we will move forward, and I very much hope that we can,” Ms Foster said.

The deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, said it was “important that we recognise we have this flexibility and if we can move quicker, we don’t want any hotels here at a competitive disadvantage,” she said.

In other changes which came into effect on Monday, around 80,000 people who had been shielding indoors for almost 12 weeks are now permitted to meet one person from another household outside.

Outdoor sports facilities have reopened and weddings and civil partnerships can take place outdoors provided no more than ten people are present.

The requirement for passengers arriving in Northern Ireland from outside the Common Travel Area to self-isolate for 14 days also came into effect.

- Additional reporting PA.