Hospitality industry representatives have said Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride's comment on the possibility restrictions could be increased after the summer and last into next year came as another blow to the industry.
Colin Neill said without clarity and a discussion on support the remarks were disappointing. He said the focus should be on working collectively and trying to avoid unnecessary stress.
"We need to focus on pushing the vaccine and do all we can to encourage uptake, whilst looking towards economic recovery," he said.
"We appreciate the CMO will always err on the side of caution, but general comments about ongoing restrictions have further knocked the confidence of both business owners and consumers and brought about further worry and concern."
He added: "As businesses are considering how best to rebuild after lockdown three, it is important that we work together and not cause further unnecessary stress to sectors, like hospitality, which have been closed for the best part of a year.
"We know Covid-19 will be with us for a long time, but the encouraging vaccine numbers is providing hope of recovery. We encourage the Chief Medical Officer to work with us to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening of our hospitality industry in the coming weeks and months.”
Dr McBride, during a media briefing, said while restrictions will not be fully lifted until 2022, he hopes this summer will bring some respite from the current lockdown.
However, he said it is likely that a range of restrictions will return in the autumn and remain in place into 2022.
The Executive decided on January 21 that it would extend the current lockdown until March 5 and ministers are due to review the situation on February 18. But now Dr McBride has poured cold water on hopes that schools and the economy will be able to reopen next month.
Speaking at the Department of Health’s weekly briefing yesterday afternoon, he said: “I suspect that we will require some degree of the current restrictions, certainly for the rest of this year, probably enhanced again in the autumn and winter of this year, and I think it will probably be into the following year before we see things a little more normal.
“In the meantime, I hope that this summer will be a little bit like last summer. Hopefully we will be able to do some of the things that we thought were a wonderful thing to do last summer.”