A body representing hundreds of businesses in Belfast has called on the Executive to set dates for the reopening of Northern Ireland’s economy.
A number of relaxations on lockdown restrictions will come into force on Monday including the return of pupils to schools, the reopening of outdoor retail and for certain sports teams to resume outdoor training.
A further Executive review is to take place on Thursday, and Belfast Chamber have said it is time to give certainty to local retailers.
Chief Executive Simon Hamilton said: “Businesses in Belfast and across the region are looking to this Thursday’s review with the hope that the Executive will set out clear dates for the reopening of large parts of our economy which have been closed now for nearly four months since Boxing Day.
“They are hopeful that this week will bring some much-needed good news. Their optimism comes from the fact that the Economy Minister (Diane Dodds) has proposed reopening to her ministerial colleagues and also because the health situation is clearly improving to the point where ending the restrictions is more than justified and arguably overdue.”
Mr Hamilton said hopes had been raised after Northern Ireland passed the “incredible achievement” one milliion Covid vaccinations administered.
In addition, he said a sharp drop in the seven day average infection rate and reduced hospitilisations could give customers confidence.
“This all bodes well and is surely sufficient progress for the Executive to follow the example of England, Scotland and Wales and begin reopening retail, close contact services, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses,” he said.
As the economy reopen across England this week, Mr Hamilton said business owners and their staff would be watching “jealously” from the sidelines.
“They are wondering why, when the health situation here is comparable or even better than in Great Britain, they aren’t also reopening.
“They are worried about what further delay in reopening will mean for jobs and the future of their businesses. The Executive must not miss the opportunity its review this week gives to set dates for reopening these beleaguered businesses, give them some hope and allow them to safely start trading again”.