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Another dry spell ahead for 'wet' NI bars after end of coronavirus lockdown

Drink-only pubs to remain closed as Stormont lifts number of restrictions

Stormont leaders have announced that drink-only bars in Northern Ireland must stay closed when the current period of lockdown ends next Friday.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill set out the latest details on Thursday following a meeting of the Executive.

They include:

n 'Wet' bars staying closed once the current two week circuit breaker ends on Friday.

n Hotels, restaurants and cafes can reopen - but must close by 11pm, with two metres social distancing "where possible" inside.

n Close contact services such hairdressers are expected to open by appointment only.

n Non-essential retail will be permitted to reopen.

n Churches can resume services and the current 25 person limit on weddings and funerals will be lifted.

n For family gatherings at Christmas of three households, it was clarified that one household can include a support bubble.

It comes as a further 11 deaths linked to coronavrius were confirmed by the Department of Health yesterday, bringing the death toll to 1,026.

A further 456 people also tested positive for the virus, with the total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began at 53,728.

There are also 413 Covid patients in Northern Ireland hospitals, with 38 in intensive care and 27 currently being ventilated.

Hospital occupancy is now at 100% and there are currently 119 active outbreaks reported in care homes.

Speaing to UTV, Ms O'Neill said: "Today we have a unanimous decision from the collective will of the Executive to lift a number of the restrictions that have been brought in."

She said pubs would have to remain closed, but they would continue to receive financial support. While restaurants will reopen, she said social distancing of two metres will be in place along with an 11pm curfew as "nothing is done without risk".

Giving an example of how the family gathering rules would work, she explained that she was currently in a support bubble with her mother.

This means they will be allowed to come together with two other households at Christmas.

Asked about the latest disappointment for wet pub owners, Mrs Foster said the decision had been based on evidence, but that details of a new support scheme worth £10.6m would be announced next week.

"It's very important that we support those people who we have had to close because of the medical advice but I think overall most people will welcome the fact that non essential retail will be open again, that our churches will be open again."

Reacting to the news, Horatio Group boss Stephen Magorrian said he was disappointed for 'wet' pub owners but welcomed news of financial support.

"It needs to be adequate because those guys haven't been open all year and they've invested a lot to be open, and it needs to be timely because they are desperate and they need support now," he said.

Mr Magorrian said more clarity was needed on the need for two metres social distancing inside hospitality venues.

"I'm disappointed with the curfew... because we have a real fear that people will leave and go to house parties."

He said financial support for the hospitality sector so far had not been adequate.

While grants were announced at the start of the recent lockdown, he said businesses lost money through the new furlough scheme.

"So for us for example with 100 employees, it's costing us £2,000 a week to keep them on furlough so I'll be glad to get them back next week and try get some funds in," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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