Northern Ireland’s Executive has been urged to follow other UK regions and set an indicative date for ending all remaining Covid-19 restrictions.
England and Scotland have set so-called ‘freedom days’, with Boris Johnson set to abolish social distancing and face mask rules on July 19.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also announced plans for a ‘freedom day’ on August 9.
So far, Northern Ireland has yet to indicate when remaining legal restrictions around social distancing and masks will be relaxed, or made ‘guidance’.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said Stormont should follow the lead of other UK regions.
He said the next planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions, which was pushed back to July 5, would allow “a chance to follow suit with the rest of the nations and indicate the date that will remove all restrictions”.
Mr Neill said: “We understand dates can change but if you need to, show us the evidence.
“We’re going to see case numbers go up, we all expect that. As the Prime Minister said, it’s about learning to live with Covid.”
While hospitality is reopened, businesses are not financially viable and are only trading at 50-60% capacity, he said.
“In our bars, there’s no standing, it’s a weekend trade and it drastically reduces their numbers so we now need a date we can plan for.”
On Thursday an additional 198 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were announced in Northern Ireland. No further deaths have been reported in the past 24 hours.
As of Thursday morning, there were 18 Covid-19 positive patients in hospital, none of whom were in intensive care.
While cases may rise upon reopening, Mr Neill said other factors should be considered.
“If we’re not getting hospitalisations then the vaccine is doing it’s job and that’s really important,” he said.
“We’re heading in the right direction with the vaccinations. Hospitality is probably the only industry that has been left with such restrictions that make us not financially viable.”
The hospitality chief said Northern Ireland’s indicative date should be similar to those in England and Scotland.
“It shouldn’t be a million miles away unless our data is bad,” he said.
Mr Johnson has said it is “looking good” for England’s lockdown to be lifted on July 19, the so-called “terminus day” in Covid restrictions despite a Delta variant surge.
On Thursday Environment Secretary George Eustace said there will be no “legal compulsion” to wear face masks once England’s coronavirus restrictions are lifted, and said he will ditch his face covering when the rule is scrapped.
“Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether it may be advisory in some settings, that’s a separate matter,” he said.
“But the objective of that final stage is to remove the legal requirement to do these things.”
Former First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have previously said ministers did not want to keep restrictions in place any longer than was necessary.
In January, they said the decision to extend restrictions, leading to almost five months of lockdown, was based on advice from the health minister highlighting pressure on hospitals and the threat of new variants.
Separately on Thursday, it was announced that enhanced Covid testing will be carried out in Castlewellan in Co Down and Londonderry after a number of suspected cases of the Delta variant of Covid were identified.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) said early results from the two areas are suggestive of the variant, first identified in India, but this has not been confirmed.
As a precautionary measure, the PHA is asking asymptomatic people aged 18-40 from selected, targeted neighbourhoods within these areas to get tested.
They will be contacted by post from Friday.
Earlier this week it was disclosed there were 612 confirmed or probable cases of the Delta variant detected in all 11 council areas in Northern Ireland.
About half of Covid-19 positive cases sampled in Northern Ireland are now indicative of the Delta variant.
The variant was first identified in India, and is now dominant in the UK.
Dr Brid Farrell, assistant director of service development, safety and quality at the PHA, said: “Testing in these areas is a precautionary measure to identify asymptomatic cases and help prevent and delay further spread of the virus.
“By slowing the spread of the virus, this allows us to get more people in the community vaccinated and get protected against Covid-19, which is effective against the Delta variant.
“PCR testing is opening to those in the 18 to 40 age group as we are seeing more cases of the Delta variant in this age group throughout Northern Ireland.
“We encourage those eligible in the neighbourhoods identified by the agency to book a slot for testing when they receive their letter, and preferably within 24-72 hours of receipt.
“We are seeing cases of the Delta variant across all council areas of Northern Ireland and this is a reminder to everyone that we should take steps now to help reduce the spread of the variant and avoid becoming complacent.”