The Stormont Executive has refused to rule out introducing another hospitality curfew as part of lifting lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland.
It is understood that nothing is off the table as the Executive plans to reopen Northern Ireland’s economy and facilitate a return to normal life as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
However, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neil said the Executive’s own evidence showed the previous curfew had a “marginal impact” on the spread of the virus.
He said the roadmap had left his members with more questions than answers due to a lack of detail and dates.
Under the Executive’s current plan to exit lockdown premises where alcohol can be consumed, excluding wet pubs, will be allowed to open with table service, limited to six people from two households, under stage three.
Wet pubs will be able to open their doors under stage four, also limited to six people from two households, with bar service permitted and the rule of six relaxed in stage five. Live entertainment and nightclubs reopening is also included in this stage.
However, the Executive has said that further restrictions could be added or removed from these stages at any time.
During previous lockdowns a range of additional measures were imposed on the hospitality sector, including an 11pm curfew and the requirement for customers to order a meal if wishing to consume alcohol indoors.
While these measures are not included in Stormont’s lockdown exit plan, they could still be reintroduced, according to an Executive Office spokesperson.
The roadmap published on Tuesday is “illustrative and not exhaustive”, the spokesperson said.
Mr Neil said Hospitality Ulster had been contacted by the Executive Office for the first time during the latest lockdown the day after the roadmap was published.
“It’s not acceptable. If they’d engaged with us before this we might have been able to inform it. We’re not looking to run the country but we have expertise in the area. The Government have many health specialists, I’ve yet to meet their hospitality specialist,” he said.
“We need to reopen on a sustainable footing, under restrictions that are financially sustainable. We can’t open just to go bust because of controls.
“That’s why we’re asking them to sit down and plan with us, sit down and talk to us about the restrictions.”
Mr Neil said any new restrictions introduced on businesses must be weighed up against the economic impact.
“Previously they’ve said ‘you can go ahead and open in two weeks’ time’ and then the day of opening you get the rules, which is the wrong way to go.
“Everybody has questions that we’ve no answer for and everybody is trying to read the room and get some sort of timeline.
“If they tell us the parameters for reopening, R rate, hospital admissions etc. tell us that and we can all follow it. It informs us and we can make decisions on it.”
The Executive Office spokesperson said plans for exiting lockdown were “flexible”.
“The Executive has set out a flexible framework of nine pathways, with examples of actions that could be taken across five phases. The measures outlined in the ‘Moving Forward’ document are illustrative and not exhaustive,” the spokesperson said.
“The sequencing of progress through the phases will be based on a consideration of the evidence, the prevailing public health situation and an assessment of impacts for people, for society and for the economy.”