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NI retail chiefs welcome Stormont's decision on reopening shops

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Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts

Retail sector representatives last night welcomed the relaxation of lockdown restrictions on shops and shopping malls - but warned that customers should continue to follow social distancing guidelines and hygiene advice when they head for the stores.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "This is a very welcome decision which now allows our local retail sector as a whole to reopen and play its role in the economic recovery of Northern Ireland. With many retailers reopening tomorrow and over the next few days, I would make an appeal to shoppers to be patient and respectful with shop staff.

"Substantial operational changes have had to be made for shops to comply with social distancing so it is likely that shoppers will experience increased queuing outside some stores.

"This is a welcome package of support, particularly the proposed Capital Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation scheme for town and city centres. High streets will have to change to accommodate social distancing and it is vital the Executive and local councils work with retailers to ensure shoppers feel safe.

"We also need much greater flexibility of enforcement of pavement cafe legislation and we should not rule out further pedestrianisation of our town and city centres to support further regeneration moves."

Belfast Chamber said the reopening of shopping centres was "the final piece in the retail reopening jigsaw".

Chief executive Simon Hamilton said: "This is further good news for the local retail sector. With all non-essential retail permitted to reopen on Friday, shopping centres were the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Today's announcement means that all of retail can now start trading again.

"Belfast Chamber expects a considerable number of stores to open in the city centre on Friday and over the coming days.

"With the vast majority of businesses closed for nearly three months, it is great to see Belfast slowly but surely opening up again.

"Whilst it is clear that footfall is likely to remain down for some time yet, this is a yet another huge step in the right direction for our members and the city's economy, and is important in restoring some semblance of normality to our society".

In Newry, Chamber President Emma Marmion-Mullen backed the easing of trading restrictions, but called for a stimulus package to help traders face the challenges ahead.

"It has been a challenging time for local businesses, but we now can slowly begin rebuilding confidence in our local economy," she said. "The road to recovery will be challenging.

"The financial support measures from the UK Government and the Executive have helped businesses to survive and keep people in employment. Equally our businesses have been innovative in how they responded to the challenge of Covid-19.

"As a business community, what we need now is a stimulus package from the NI Executive which will include investment in infrastructure, the improvement of our digital network, support for innovation, and a skills agenda which maximises the talent of our young people."

Belfast Telegraph