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Diane Dodds: halve 2m distance for hotels and restaurants

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Economy Minister Diane Dodds during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Economy Minister Diane Dodds during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

It would be more viable for the hospitality industry to operate under one-metre social distancing, the Economy Minister has said.

Diane Dodds said she wanted to safely reopen pubs and restaurants sooner rather than later.

Businesses have been devastated by the enforced coronavirus shutdown since March.

Hotels have enjoyed a "huge" increase in bookings since the Executive agreed to set an indicative reopening date of July 20, a tourism chief said.

Mrs Dodds acknowledged other countries had adopted one-metre social distancing guidelines - half that encouraged in Northern Ireland.

"What we do in relation to these measures is guided by the science," she said.

"It is clear that it becomes more viable for restaurants and hotels to operate under the one-metre guideline rather than the two-metre guideline."

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said hotels had enjoyed a huge rise in the number of bookings since the Executive agreed to set a date.

He added tourists would not want to come if they did not feel safe. "All of this will be driven by public safety being paramount and us being able to convince others that they can be content that it is safe for visitors to come," he said.

Northern Ireland's rate of infection, the number of other people one infected person infects, is just below one.

More nuanced distancing advice could be prepared for the most vulnerable groups shielding from coronavirus, Stormont's chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said on Wednesday.

Fresh letters are due to go out in Northern Ireland over coming weeks to thousands of people with serious underlying health conditions.

Belfast Telegraph