Further easing of lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland

All non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality can resume operating from Friday as part of Stormont’s phased reopening plan.
Further easing of lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland

By Michelle Devane, PA

Retailers, publicans and restaurateurs in the North are gearing up to reopen their doors on Friday in a further relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Under Northern Ireland Executive's phased reopening plan, outdoor hospitality and all non-essential retail can resume on Friday after four months of closure.

Licensed and unlicensed premises can serve customers in outdoors settings in groups of six from no more than two householders.

It means publicans and restauranteurs who have outdoor space can resume operating.

Curfews on takeaways and off-licences have been removed.

Gyms and swimming pools can reopen for individual activities.

The limit on outdoor gatherings in domestic gardens has increased to 15 people from no more than three households.

Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can also operate.

While the latest easing of restrictions has been widely welcomed, a number of bars have said they will not be able to reopen after being told their outdoor areas do not conform to requirements.

Many bar owners say their outdoor areas, now judged to be too enclosed, have not changed from what was permitted to open following the easing of the first lockdown last year.

Outdoor premises should not be more than 50 per cent enclosed, according to health guidance.

Hospitality Ulster said there was “chaos” over the implementation of the rules and many venues had been told their outdoor seating areas did not adhere to guidelines from the Executive.

The Executive insisted on Thursday there had been “no change” around rules for outdoor hospitality venues and the “definition of indoor and outdoor areas which applied last year” still applied.

Local councils are inspecting hospitality premises in their respective areas.

In a statement, Belfast City Council said it had a “statutory obligation to ensure compliance within the coronavirus restrictions, set by the NI Executive”.

Minister for Finance Conor Murphy said the issue was discussed at a meeting of the Executive on Thursday and that they want people to be able to open their doors as planned and that there was “no desire to put any additional obstacles in anyone’s way”.

Coronavirus – Fri Apr 23, 2021
Last week hairdressers were able to resume trading. Photo: Peter Morrison/PA

Northern Ireland took its first steps out of lockdown last week after a series of businesses resumed trading for the first time in four months.

Last Friday, close-contact services, including hairdressers and beauty parlours, reopened while driving lessons also restarted, along with theory and practical tests.

Outdoor attractions welcomed back visitors while competitive sport resumed outdoors, with numbers limited to 100, but with no spectators allowed.

More restrictions are set to be lifted on May 24th, although these are subject to review.

From that date, pubs and restaurants can operate indoors, people will be allowed to gather in homes, and indoor attractions can reopen.

Other tourist accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs can also reopen.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues, after appropriate risk assessments are undertaken.

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