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Coronavirus: Move to relax social distancing 'will save jobs and businesses' in NI

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Decision: Colin Neill

Decision: Colin Neill

Decision: Colin Neill

The hospitality and retail sectors have welcomed the Executive's move to allow social distancing of one metre, saying it will ensure the survival of many businesses.

First Minister Arlene Foster said that while the objective should be to remain two metres apart, "a minimum of one metre can be considered acceptable in circumstances where appropriate mitigations are made".

She said the Executive will now consult with business sectors on what the mitigations might be.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the right decision had been made.

"The move to one metre has the potential to save lots of jobs and some hospitality businesses that thought they didn't stand a chance at two metres.

"The industry is prepared and will do everything it can to protect its staff and customers and reduce the spread of the virus, whilst at the same time reopening the hospitality sector for the benefit of the wider economy."

But he warned that even with a one-metre social distancing requirement, many pubs would no longer find it commercially viable to open.

He also called on the Executive to put forward a date when pubs which don't serve food - which are not covered in the July 3 plan - can open.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the new one-metre rule was a major step forward in the reopening of the economy.

"This will allow a greater volume of customers to be in store and should reduce outdoor queues," he said.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the NI Hotels Federation, also welcomed the one-metre ruling and said it would increase the viability of venues.

"Hotels understand that they will have to put protocols in place to ensure that the business environs are safe and managed in terms of risk," she said. "There has been significant work in the creation of guidelines and operating procedures to ensure that hotels are Covid-19 safe.

"A collaborative approach has worked well to date and continuing partnerships is the way forward. This will stand us in good stead and hopefully result in a workable set of mitigations for the sector going forward."

The Executive also announced dates for the reopening of venues offering close-contact services, such as beauticians and spas, which can open from July 6. Indoor gyms can now open from July 10.

James Higgins, the owner of a gym in Tully Business Park in Dunmurry, said he was "delighted" to have a date to reopen. He launched the business in December last year.

He said: "We will have people in training in July 10 to help people get back on track and regain their fitness. People have gained between 10 and 20 pounds during lockdown, so there will be plenty of people wanting to get into the gym."

Nicola Crawford, co-owner of fat-loss and wellbeing business Cinch Clinic in Holywood, Co Down, said: "I am relieved at this news as until now we had felt left behind as one of the smaller industries. Now this means that we might be able to serve our clients and get staff back to work whilst reaping some benefits from what remains of the busiest time of the year."

Belfast Telegraph