Industry and hospitality chiefs calling for roadmap out of pandemic
The Executive is coming under pressure to lift Covid-19 restrictions to save the economy from collapse.
Industry chiefs are calling for a clear roadmap to help Northern Ireland move out of the pandemic as Scotland announced plans to lift most Covid-19 safety measures from next Monday.
A range of restrictions remain in place here as case numbers have risen in recent days with an apparent surge in schools.
Yesterday, 4,081 more cases were recorded — the highest number in nearly a fortnight, while a further six deaths linked to the virus were reported.
However, Covid-19 admissions to hospitals and ICUs have remained steady, raising hopes that Northern Ireland will not experience a repeat of the catastrophe experienced last January.
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: “The effect on the businesses impacted by the restrictions that were introduced has been very real.
“With our concerns about Omicron now abating and businesses facing many other challenges too, Ministers must move fast to remove those restrictions and amend their work from home guidance to help businesses to recover. As others start to get back to some semblance of normality, so should we”.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts also called for a “clear and managed plan to safely remove the Covid-19 restrictions”, as well as an immediate move to five days isolation.
“This will be a significant challenge and will require extensive planning but will be important to boost footfall for our high streets, reopening our economy and return our society to near as normal,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has called for “the punitive restrictions which are having a cataclysmic impact” on the sector to be lifted.
In particular, it has called for the reopening of nightclubs as it said the worst impacts of Omicron are not as severe as modelling suggested.
A survey of members has found one in two have seen sales fall by more than 50% in the week beginning January 3, 2022, compared to the same week in 2019.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “The latest survey results paint a dire picture of where our industry currently is after almost two years of restrictions and closures.
“It is no exaggeration to say the hospitality sector has never been in a worse position with over 96% of trade down from 2019 in food, drink and accommodation sales.
“The financial burden of the restrictions are becoming apparent as a growing concern with members responding that the cost of unused stock due to poor footfall and restriction, looming tax bills and the cost of extra staff to monitor Covid-19 passports and provide table service is having serious strain on business viability.
“In fact, some businesses have made the difficult decision to close until restrictions can be lifted, having a detrimental impact on trade and staff.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also called for a “clear and managed roadmap” out of restrictions.
“The success of the vaccination programme and the effort made by people to keep each other safe has put us in a good position to begin planning for the recovery phase of the pandemic. It cannot be dominated by the chaos of the early response,” he said.
The Executive has been contacted for comment.