Two people have their say as most Covid rules set to end in England
Yes, says Joel Neill
It is incredibly frustrating for the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland to watch on as colleagues across England prepare to lift restrictions and celebrate their ‘Freedom Day’ while we wait in limbo for the Executive to give us a clear direction on what is next for our industry.
We cannot go on in a state of over-caution, as has happened so many times throughout this pandemic period.
Action and a timeline for further reopening must be implemented immediately to placate the sector.
Our industry is being stifled by restrictions, which is limiting opportunities to recover and grow from the terrible losses of the past 16 months.
Restrictions including table service only, social distancing and the cap on table numbers means licensed premises are having to turn away trade.
This is having a severe impact on the industry, particularly non food-serving pubs.
Throughout the pandemic, our pubs and restaurants have gone above and beyond providing the correct safety measures with thousands spent on ensuring all settings are compliant and more.
This has proved effective with low transmission rates reported within hospitality settings and the fact that we have a lower transmission rate than England or Scotland – therefore, we must ask why is the sector being held back and restricted?
We have seen the fantastic response to the Covid-19 vaccination programme, and as hospital numbers remain low, we can see no feasible reason for our industry not to take that next step forward in the pathway to recovery.
The Executive must engage with the sector and provide the data and steps needed out of lockdown so that the industry can continue to plan and work towards economic recovery.
It is clear that staying in this slow waltz is no longer viable for many of our pubs and restaurants.
We must reopen further — jobs and livelihoods depend on it.
Joel Neill is operations director at Hospitality Ulster
No, says Helen Dolk
Just over half of 18 to 29-year-olds and two thirds of 30 to 39-year-olds have been vaccinated with one dose, and more than half the vaccinated population is awaiting the second dose — something we know is necessary to protect against the Delta variant.
Our children are unvaccinated, the virus is spreading fast and our vaccination programme is still underway. This is absolutely not the time to recklessly lift all restrictions.
Fairness and protection of the vulnerable are as important as ever in deciding priorities. Every time we lift a restriction, we should know what compensatory measures have been introduced to stop the R number rising as a result, and how fair the impact will be.
People who provide or use essential services, such as transport or healthcare, should be protected by face masks. Masks are not a question of individual liberty but protection of others, much like speed limits on the roads.
Letting the virus run rampant among children is a dangerous experiment when the full extent and nature of long Covid among them is only emerging. The holidays are an ideal time to fit classrooms with improved ventilation systems so that children are better protected when they return, and outdoor leisure support is important.
People with compromised immune systems need to be able to access healthcare and live their lives without fear this far into the pandemic.
Proper financial support to enable infected workers to isolate is long overdue and would allow the test and trace system and mass testing at infection hotspots to be more effective, reaping economic rewards through virus control.
Allowing the Government to wash its hands of the problem by lifting all restrictions does nothing to support health or a fair economy. Fairness includes giving businesses support for partial opening, such as those in the arts sector who do so much for community wellbeing.
A fair economy is not one which envisages a further wave of acceptable deaths suffered by the most disadvantaged in society when we have the means to avoid this.
Helen Dolk is Professor of Epidemiology and Health Services Research at Ulster University and a member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group