Stormont urged to lift ‘punitive Covid restrictions’ to save Northern Ireland’s economy

The executive is under pressure to lift Covid-19 restrictions to save the economy from collapse.

Industry leaders are calling for a clear roadmap to help Northern Ireland emerge from the pandemic as Scotland announced plans to lift most Covid-19 safety measures from next Monday.

A series of restrictions remain in place here as the number of cases has increased in recent days with an apparent increase in schools.

Yesterday, 4,081 additional cases were recorded the highest number in nearly a fortnight, while six more virus-related deaths have been reported.

However, Covid-19 admissions to hospitals and intensive care units have remained stable, raising hopes that Northern Ireland will not experience a repeat of the disaster experienced last January.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: “The effect on businesses affected by the restrictions that have been introduced has been very real.

“With our concerns over Omicron now easing and businesses facing many other challenges as well, Ministers must act quickly to remove these restrictions and change their work from home guidelines to help businesses recover. As others begin to return 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 Covid-19 restrictions”, as well as an immediate move to five days of isolation.

“It will be a significant challenge and will require careful planning, but it will be important to increase traffic on our main streets, to reopen our economy and to return our society to a situation close to normal,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has called for the lifting of “punitive restrictions which are having a cataclysmic impact” on the sector.

In particular, he called for the reopening of nightclubs as he said Omicron’s worst impacts are not as severe as modeling suggests.

A member survey found that one in two members saw their sales drop by more than 50% in the week starting 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 is now after nearly two years of restrictions and closures.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the hospitality sector has never been in a worse position with more than 96% of trade down from 2019 in food, beverage and accommodation sales. .

“The financial burden of restrictions is becoming a growing concern, with members responding that the cost of unused stock due to low attendance and restrictions, looming tax bills and the cost of additional staff to monitor Covid-19 passports and provide a table service is having serious pressure on the viability of the business.

“In fact, some businesses have made the difficult decision to close until restrictions can be lifted, negatively impacting business and staff.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also called for a “clear and managed roadmap” out of restrictions.

“The success of the vaccination program and people’s efforts to protect each other have put us in a good position to start planning for the recovery phase of the pandemic. It cannot be dominated by the chaos of early response,” he said.

The executive was coContacted for comment.

Pat R. Madsen