| 7.1°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Michelle O'Neill calls for Northern Ireland pubs and restaurants to be closed in fight against outbreak

Close

Help is needed to weather the Coronavirus crisis, says Colin Neill (Yui Mok/PA)

Help is needed to weather the Coronavirus crisis, says Colin Neill (Yui Mok/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Help is needed to weather the Coronavirus crisis, says Colin Neill (Yui Mok/PA)

Some local pubs have chosen to close for several weeks in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Hotels, restaurants, other hospitality businesses and retailers have already been hit by a collapse in demand.

It comes as all pubs and bars in the Republic were ordered to close from Sunday night until at least March 29 to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

The move was taken after photos emerged on social media of crowded pubs in Dublin's Temple Bar on Saturday.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has also called on people not to organise or participate in any parties in private houses or other venues which could put public health at risk.

Earlier on Sunday publicans in Temple Bar announced a complete shutdown of all pubs and nightclubs in the party spot with immediate effect, a move that was later extended to the whole country.

In a tweet Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said businesses north of the border should now follow suit.

The Sinn Fein vice-president said she'd had a "useful discussion" with Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster.

"I welcomed that a lot of pubs, bars and restaurants have been responsible and taken the step to close," she tweeted.

"We need that additional step and everyone must be instructed to close."

Ulster Unionist health spokesman Alan Chambers said any decisions made in Northern Ireland will be guided by Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and the professionals around him.

"This is a time for decisions to be taken based on medical and scientific evidence," he said.

"I know that's exactly what Health Minister Robin Swann will continue to do in the public interest. This is not a time for using this as an opportunity to score political points." Among the pubs here which have already voluntarily opted to temporarily close is The Blind Cobbler in Omagh.

Andrew Short, who runs the bar along with his daughter Laura, said while the decision was difficult, public safety was paramount.

"We've been weighing up all the advice on how to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus and having a crowd in the bar, even if we limit the numbers, just doesn't sit well with me," he said. "I'm watching our doctors, nurses and health staff who are working tirelessly to lessen the impact of a global pandemic, and while we can encourage social distancing in the bar, we can't really stop people getting together."

The father and daughter said they will continue to pay their staff and will review the situation on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has urged businesses to keep unrelated customers two metres apart and minimise standing room.

It has also advised all staff to wear disposable gloves and for cash transactions to be stopped.

Chief executive Mr Neill told the Belfast Telegraph: "We want to ensure that they are taking all necessary precautions to look after our staff, customers and visitors.

"We continue to follow official guidance and at this time we are calling for the introduction of social distancing straight away.

"Some establishments may take the decision to close, but that is up to them on an individual basis.

"We want to ensure that a responsible approach is taken so that scenes which were witnessed on social media in the likes of Temple Bar over the weekend do not occur here."

Mr Neill added: "The health of the nation is paramount, as is the health of our staff, but it is also important that we try and ensure people will have jobs to return to once this crisis is over."

Belfast Telegraph