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Lockdown: What another month of Covid-19 restrictions will mean for Northern Ireland


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An empty Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre

An empty Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre

An empty Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre

Our reporters assess the impact another month of Covid-19 restrictions will have on Northern Ireland's health, hospitality, tourism, education, retail and culture sectors.

Health

By Allan Preston

GPs voiced fears that people might put off getting medical help if lockdown is extended.

Dr Tom Black is chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland. He said services for red flag cancer referrals and immunisation were still operating, but not all patients were coming in.

"Patients don't like coming to the doctor now. One of my regular patients said, 'I'm not coming down and you're definitely not coming out to see me'. What she's really expressing is a fear of Covid.

"I think the patients that are being shielded, with chronic diseases and immunosuppression, are very wise to stay away because there is an increased risk of transmission.

"So telephone and video conferencing will remain a way of triaging their problems without exposing them to other patients and healthcare staff."

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle has made himself available as a standby GP if services get overwhelmed. He said a prolonged lockdown could cause a serious strain on mental health services, and urged those struggling to reach out.

"Those with a history of alcohol or food addiction are at an increased risk by being trapped at home. It can also be a very stressful time for those on the autistic spectrum who have lost their routine," he said.

Hospitality

By Ralph Hewitt

Pubs and restaurants will need extended help from the Government even after the lockdown comes to an end, according to Hospitality Ulster’s chief executive.

Colin Neill explained that the hospitality sector here employs 65,000 people, while the turnover reaches £1.9bn — £600m of that from tourism.

In the long term, Mr Neill fears that if the hospitality sector is not supported sufficiently by the Government then tourism will also suffer a massive blow.

“The support from Government has been really welcome and the furlough money has helped to keep our staff,” he said.

What we need is ongoing Government support even beyond when we reopen Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster

“It’s most likely the hospitality sector will be the slowest to reopen.

“We’ll probably open with controls around social distancing and that in itself will cause us financial problems. It is going to be tough because how do you reduce your numbers in your restaurant or bar and make it profitable?

“What we need is ongoing Government support even beyond when we reopen.”

Mr Neill added that if there are no pubs or restaurants left then tourists will not visit the country.

“It’s the pub where you experience our culture and people and it’s our restaurants where you experience our local produce,” he said.

Tourism

By Mark Bain

Tourism will be one of the last sectors to exit restrictions and according to Janice Gault, Chief Executive of the NI Hotels Federation, without a clear plan and a smaller pool of tourists, the result could be catastrophic.

“Current intelligence suggests that hospitality and tourism will be the last sector to return and with a limited capacity.

“Hotels continue to incur considerable cost, but coming out of lockdown without clear guidance and support would be catastrophic.

“Hotels rely heavily on income streams which involve social engagement and if these are restricted, many may simply be unviable,” she said.

A continuation of lockdown will affect business, but opening without support and a clear plan would place the hotel industry in a much more precarious position Janice Gault, NI Hotels Federation

“Hotel occupancy would be low and a big worry is the number of employees a business could support under significantly reduced trading circumstances.

“Consultation with hotels has indicated that they would like to have considerable notice to plan for reopening. The exit from lockdown will be like opening a new hotel.

“The strain of this, reduced trading, limited access to a much smaller pool of tourists and escalating costs would require post-Covid subvention for the hotel sector.

”A continuation of lockdown will affect business, but opening without support and a clear plan would place the hotel industry in a much more precarious position.”

Schools

By Lauren Harte

Any return to normal schooling can only be based on the safety of pupils and staff, according to Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

Ms White says that in order for schools to reopen, not only must the medical evidence be beyond doubt, but parents must also be assured of their child’s safety.

“As the lockdown continues, teachers are increasingly concerned for vulnerable children.

If the gulf between pupils with the best qualifications and those with the lowest was an issue before coronavirus, it can only be an even bigger challenge afterwards Jacquie White, Ulster Teachers' Union

“Schools are about more than learning as this present crisis has shown. It’s become increasingly obvious the wider pastoral role teachers play in ensuring children are fed and kept safe, as well as educated,” she said.

“However, at an academic level we worry that continued lockdown will make it increasingly difficult to re-engage children who would struggle anyway and who, without adequate support at home or access to laptops for instance, can only fall further behind.

“If the gulf between pupils with the best qualifications and those with the lowest was an issue before coronavirus, it can only be an even bigger challenge afterwards.

“Teachers must be assured of the resources to shield children from the worst effects of the fall-out academically, socially and mentally — and of the support they too will undoubtedly need.”

Shops

By Claire McNeilly

Shops will have to adapt to survive during the Covid-19 crisis, especially if the lockdown is extended, a retail chief has said.

“Social distancing is going to be with us for a significant amount of time,” Retail NI boss Glyn Roberts added.

“It will continue to be a reality even if we see a lifting of the lockdown and the reopening of retailers who aren’t currently on the essential list. Let’s be very clear: it’s a difficult challenge for small and independent retailers.

“Our food members who’ve opened during the crisis have provided good examples of how to handle social distancing and we can relate these to other non-food and non-essential retailers.

“Some retailers, including grocery, fruit and veg, pharmacy and butchers, are already operating models of good practice and these could be emulated elsewhere. Many have installed glass screens, they’ve completely changed their shop layouts and staff are policing the number of people in stores at any one time.”

Mr Roberts added: “But it’s expensive to implement.

“That’s why we’ve told the Government it’s so important to provide these retailers with support via small business grants and rates relief so that they can stay open.

“Things will be tough but it’s a resilient sector.”

Life

By Donna Deeney

Life under lockdown has seen churches closed to worshippers, garden centres left with thousands of pounds worth of stock going to waste, and major events such as the Balmoral Show and North West 200 road races cancelled.

The list of cancelled cultural events that began with St Patrick’s Day now includes the Twelfth of July celebrations and the August Apprentice Boys Parade in Londonderry.

The traditional family days out to the museum, zoo or even beach are almost certainly not going to be permitted and holidays will be spent in the garden.

By and large human beings are social animals, we like being with other people. When that is reduced or denied, it will have a negative impact on us Professor Gerry Cunningham

Professor Gerry Cunningham, a leading psychotherapist from Londonderry, said the continuation of the lockdown will have an impact on people’s mental health.

He said: “In times of stress and challenge there is a tendency for people of faith to turn even more to their faith and to pray more, and if you are not able to do that, it will be incredibly difficult.

“People look forward to an ‘end’ of something so the disappointment of no end in sight will impact on people who will start to become despondent, despairing and even depressed.

“By and large human beings are social animals, we like being with other people. When that is reduced or denied, it will have a negative impact on us.”

Belfast Telegraph