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Northern Ireland pubs and hotels could reopen on July 3

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Key issues: Michelle O’Neill

Key issues: Michelle O’Neill

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Key issues: Michelle O’Neill

Reports that a date has been set for the reopening of the hospitality industry are encouraging and "very positive", a trade body leader said last night.

Hotels, bars selling food and cafes will open their doors early next month if the Executive signs off on a proposal from Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

Ministers will today consider the plan that will include opening up the hospitality sector on July 3.

"If the reports are right this is encouraging, very positive," said Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster.

"It comes with lots of challenges but I do give it to Minister Dodds, who has put tremendous effort into working with the industry."

He said the sector remains concerned that a two-metre distancing rule will be enforced, which will cut capacity to 30% in many establishments and would not be sustainable.

Mr Neill added that the details on the conditions for reopening will have to be studied by those in the industry.

Self-contained caravans and holiday lets would be allowed from June 26, according to the plan, which also sees hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars that serve food open a week later.

The report came after Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said there will be "significant" announcements this week about the return of the local hospitality industry.

Sources at Stormont have outlined their intention to have the region's economy fully up and running by July 20.

Pressure is growing for a faster lifting of restrictions after a slump in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

Yesterday officials said no further deaths had been recorded here. No deaths were recorded on four other days last week, although two were announced on Saturday, leaving the total reported by the Department of Health at 541.

Mrs O'Neill suggested that today and Thursday will be "significant days" in terms of announcements.

"We want to keep moving forward, we want to keep giving people that wee bit more to try to get back to some semblance of normality," she told BBC Politics.

"So, the hospitality sector is one, but there's other sectors out there that are now asking for an indicative date and I think it's important that we give them all indicative dates."

She said despite this, there is a need for caution and to "avoid a second wave if we can".

"I want the hospitality [sector] to open up, but imagine if we were to open up now and have to shut everything down in four or six weeks?

"I'm working our way through our plan gradually and incrementally. We're certainly in a good place, making positive steps forward, but we need to do it gradually."

Since Saturday people living alone have been able to reunite with their families after three months of coronavirus lockdown in Northern Ireland. The number who can meet outside while practising social distancing to limit the risk of transmission was increased from six to 10.

Mrs O'Neill said she does not feel "any pressure whatsoever" to follow the Republic and how it has eased its own lockdown measures.

Looking ahead, she said childcare and the reopening of schools will be the key issues.

"More people are returning to work but they need childcare. You can't tell them to go back to work without saying what childcare will look like," she said.

"We have asked the Health and Education Ministers to bring forward the childcare recovery plan.

"For me, there [are] two key issues in the week ahead: what does school look like in September, and what does childcare look like for our families?"

Belfast Telegraph