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Almost a quarter of NI venues surveyed forced to shut due to Covid cases


Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint, which closed at the weekend

Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint, which closed at the weekend

Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint, which closed at the weekend

Around 160 pubs and other venues around Northern Ireland have had to close or partially shut over the last week due to staff having to self-isolate, according to a survey.

In the town of Warrenpoint in Co Down alone, three venues have been impacted over the last week.

Pubs group Hospitality Ulster said research it carried out at the weekend found that around 60 places – or 23% of those surveyed – had been forced to shut completely.

They told Hospitality Ulster that staff numbers had fallen so low, due to many having to self-isolate after a notification from the StopCOVID NI app, that it was no longer possible to function fully as a business.

Anyone who gets a notification from the app that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus is expected to self-isolate for 10 days.

And 59% of the 282 surveyed had been forced to shut completely or reduce their services.

Nearly three-quarters had faced staff shortages due to isolation.

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Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said: “It is clear that the current isolation policy is painting an extremely worrying picture of the viability of the hospitality sector caused by staff shortages due to them isolating after close contact with someone testing positive.

“It is simply unsustainable, with nearly three-quarters of hospitality businesses that responded reporting staff shortages due to isolating and a quarter stating that they have had to close completely.”

He said the isolation policy for vaccinated staff was “clearly a problem”. 

“We call on the Executive to review and revise the isolation policy immediately to a ‘test to remain at work’ process as the current situation is having a massive negative impact on hundreds of business across Northern Ireland.”

Mr Neill said hospitality businesses were already struggling under social distancing and other restrictions.

He added: "Having to close with no financial support in place due to this problem is presenting huge difficulties and a great deal of worry and stress for owners and staff.

"It is getting to a situation where shutters are being pulled down, staff are forced out of work, and no trade at all is taking place.”

Mr Neill said financial support should be given to staff and owners when businesses were forced to close.

Warrenpoint’s Whistledown Hotel announced on Saturday that it had made a “personal business decision” to close on Sunday and Monday, with limited services returning on Tuesday and Wednesday.  

In a Facebook post, the venue said: “We are truly devastated but it was inevitable with the increase in cases in this area.

“We will routinely do lateral flow tests on all Whistledown staff each morning before the start of their shift to ensure all employees currently working are testing negative.”

It said a deep clean had been carried out on the building, with other sanitising measures taken.

The post added: “We sincerely apologise to anyone whose plans or special events were disrupted at the weekend due to our decision to close but we strongly felt that we needed to act as swiftly as possible to alleviate staff concerns and to keep our customers safe.

"We were never instructed at any stage to close the premises by a public body .This was a decisive management decision.”

Staff who had returned to work this week had tested negative, it added. 

Meanwhile, the Lough and Quay restaurant complex in Warrenpoint also shut at the weekend, telling customers on Facebook: “There are unprecedented cases currently in the Newry and Mourne Area and before it gets any worse, we are taking action now rather than at the last minute.”

The Lough and Quay reopened at lunchtime on Wednesday.

And a third venue, The First and Last Bar, announced on Friday that it would be cancelling its live entertainment at the weekend.

However, the bar then updated customers on Monday with the news that a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the decision to close.