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Coronavirus: Business welcome for NI lockdown plan but lack of dates problematic for planning

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Construction workers on their way to the new University of Ulster site in Belfast. Pic Stephen Davison Pacemaker

Construction workers on their way to the new University of Ulster site in Belfast. Pic Stephen Davison Pacemaker

Construction workers on their way to the new University of Ulster site in Belfast. Pic Stephen Davison Pacemaker

Northern Ireland business groups have welcomed the NI Executive’s five-point plan out of lockdown but said a lack of dates has made planning more difficult.

The document provides five steps for different elements of Northern Ireland to take on the way to reopening - including travel, education, retail, cultural, sports and leisure and work.

Step 1 of the retail plan allows for the opening of outdoor-based retail such as garden centres, with the final step permitting the reopening of ‘hospitality retail’ - defined as restaurants, cafes and pubs.

And a plan for the world of work also concludes that while all people should return to work, remote working should be maintained where possible.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simom Hamilton said the publication of the plan was a positive move. But he added: “It is disappointing that it does not include even indicative timings such as those that accompanied similar plans elsewhere which would allow businesses to plan properly for their reopening.

“The health of people is paramount but it the restrictions on the ability of so many businesses to trade is also doing untold damage to the health of our economy. Businesses need some certainty and, sadly, today’s announcement does not offer them that.”

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He urged the Executive to give businesses clarity to enable them to prepare for opening while keeping staff and customers safe.

But Angela McGowan, director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said taking a “flexible approach” and putting health first was the only way to restart the economy.

“Getting Northern Ireland back to work in a way that prioritises safety will minimise the impact on livelihoods from this pandemic. It must be done gradually, based on science, to retain public confidence. Moving too far, too fast could set back the economic restart.

“Only by employers, employees and unions working together with the Executive will we begin to build back better, setting out a vision for the future of our economy based on fairness and sustainability.”

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said the plan was a significant step forward but said the absence of dates meant planning ahead would be a challenge for business.

“Businesses share the NI Executive’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks – and they will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully.

“They now need to see the Executive’s plan supported by clear guidance. It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of PPE, so that they can make plans to re-open safely.”

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