Restrictions across retail, close-contact services and parts of hospitality will be lifted next Friday, it has been revealed.
The announcement from the First and Deputy First Ministers means a two-week circuit breaker will be eased on December 11.
However, so-called ‘wet pubs’ – those only serving alcohol – will not be permitted to reopen yet.
The new easing of rules and restrictions includes:
Re-opening of hotels, cafes and restaurants
Non-essential retail can open again
Gyms for personal training
Close contact services (such as barbers and hairdressers)
Weddings (numbers based on risk assessment)
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “It is welcome news that the Executive has confirmed the reopening date of non-essential retail on December 11. In saying that, these retailers will struggle to make up the losses from the two-week circuit breaker in the last few weeks of Christmas shopping”
“Retail NI is working with the Executive to ensure that shoppers will have an enjoyable, but above all else, a safe shopping experience from 11th December onwards. We urge shoppers to obey all regulations on face-coverings, social distancing and hand-sanitising”
“In these vital few weeks of Christmas shopping we urge shoppers to make it their civic duty to support independent retailers as many of them are struggling to survive and desperately need the trade”
Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster said: “It is simply unfair and unjust. This is nothing but terrible news for owners and staff in traditional pubs who have once again been unfairly singled out to bear the brunt of the Covid lockdown for the greater good.
“Our traditional pubs have only been open for three weeks since March (two weeks in Derry / Strabane) so they cannot be responsible for the spread of the virus. Despite that, the opportunity for them to trade and try and recoup a small amount of the massive losses they have suffered throughout this year has now been taken away.
“The idea of a packed, sweaty pub with close contact is a dim distant memory and no longer exists - enduring Covid regulations have put an end to that. Food-led hospitality was open for months without an increase in the R number and our traditional pubs can operate under the same strict regulations, ensuring a Covid-safe environment.
“It is simply unfair and unjust to keep pubs closed when the evidence shows they have not been the site of transmission.”
Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhán Connolly, said: “The reopening of non-essential retail is very welcome news. It won’t make up for the loss of two weeks trading during what is our golden quarter especially when retailers already had been feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs but it is still welcome. We have always said it is not about what you sell but how you sell it and by the end of the year the retail industry will have invested over £15m in Northern Ireland to make stores safe.
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: “Confirmation that ‘non-essential’ retailers and close contact services, along with most of the hospitality sector, can reopen and start trading again on December 11 is welcome news and will, on the whole, prove positive for jobs and the economy.
“Traditional drink-only pubs will be understandably disappointed and angry that, once again, they remain unable to reopen. Belfast’s bars are a huge cultural, tourism and community asset and need increased Executive support to survive.
“Protecting lives and livelihoods is vitally important. It is crucial that everyone continues to follow the ‘hands, face, space’ and other guidance in the coming weeks to avoid another damaging lockdown in the early new year.”