The creation of an outdoor cafe culture could help Northern Ireland’s pubs and restaurants reopen after lockdown, the health minister has said.
Robin Swann said there was a need for “strategic and creative” thinking to find ways to get businesses trading amid social distancing restrictions.
Mr Swann said the executive need to work collaboratively with the sector and local councils in Northern Ireland to find new ways to help them work.
Stormont ministers are also set to examine whether the two-metre social distance measure could be reduced to one – a move the hospitality industry has been calling for.
In the past, many cafes, restaurants and pubs have been hampered from expanding their businesses outside by restrictions on street furniture on pavements.
Mr Swann told the Stormont Covid-19 briefing: “There are strategic and creative ways we can look at open opening our hospitality sector in the weeks and months ahead.
“Should we move to a cafe-style approach where people are actually outdoors?
“We already know that the spread of the virus is so much more manageable outdoors than it is indoors. So, when we look at the utilisation of outdoor facilities, rather than indoor facilities for our hospitality sector, let’s get creative.
“Let’s look at how collaboratively the executive departments working together with local councils and the hospitality sector can look at some of these easements and bring back some of those services.”
Northern Ireland hotels are set to reopen on July 20.
Calls for a date for other hospitality providers to reopen north of the border have intensified since the Irish Government announced that pubs could start trading again from June 29, if they operate as restaurants.
Mr Swann said executive ministers were set to discuss the issue on Thursday.
But he said it was important that there was no “rush” to reopening.
“I want them done on a managed, respectful, measured approach, so that doesn’t help the spread of the virus within Northern Ireland,” he said.