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Coronavirus: Hospitality sector in Northern Ireland to feel 'immediate pain', warns body's chief

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Action call: Colin Neill

Action call: Colin Neill

Action call: Colin Neill

Guidance from the Prime Minister to stay away from pubs and restaurants due to coronavirus will be "devastating" for local businesses and workers, the head of Hospitality Ulster has said.

This follows a request from the Irish government for pubs to close their doors until March 29.

Reacting to the latest measures from Boris Johnson, Colin Neill said: "We should now prepare for severe consequences for the staff and businesses in the sector as this will be an extremely difficult period."

He added: "The Northern Ireland Executive must now give instructions if we are to close and put a rescue package in place to support the 65,000 staff affected. The hospitality sector across Northern Ireland will suffer overwhelming and immediate pain in a short period of time."

Mr Neill met with the First and Deputy First Ministers on Monday to call for support as a huge loss of trade is already anticipated after the cancellation of today's St Patrick's parade in Belfast.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: "The calls I'm getting from staff are, 'Will I get paid, how will I feed my children, how will I pay my mortgage?'"

After being told the ministers were working on a solution, he said that "speed is of the essence" as the situation was changing by the minute.

"There's a crisis already now building and we need to put measures in place to protect our people, protect our businesses and protect jobs for when this crisis is over," he said.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir tabled an urgent question to the Finance Minister Conor Murphy, asking for an update on his plans to support businesses and safeguard workers.

Mr Murphy said his department is putting together a financial package, which could include changing the timings of rates bills for small businesses.

Any announcement, he said, would first need approval from other Executive Ministers.

Hospitality Ulster's calls for a package to assist staff was backed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

A joint statement read: "We are now in unprecedented times and the impact of Covid-19 on staff in the hospitality sector will be devastating. This is now time for exceptional measures to be implemented.

"We are about to see the jobs and livelihoods of many in the sector go to the wall. We need our elected representatives to move fast to support our people.

"The hospitality sector is being hit first; will be hit the hardest and may not recover at all if Government does not act now.

"Government needs to ensure that funding is put in place immediately so our people can put food on the table. This is a real and present issue and we only have hours if not days to sort it.

"Both organisations are at one in wanting to ensure that the staff in the sector are protected and can survive through this very difficult period.

"We need business organisations, unions and government to come together and get around the table and find solutions very quickly.

"Other countries around the world have taken measures to support staff in various sectors and we must do the same here."

The Prime Minister said "drastic action" was needed to avoid Covid-19 cases doubling every five days.

"Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel," he said.

"We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues."

In Belfast, several pubs have already taken the decision to close their doors as a precaution including Lavery's and The Errigle.

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