Christmas concerns as Northern Ireland mulls restrictions

Christmas concerns as Northern Ireland mulls restrictions

Northern Ireland’s executive is discussing Covid-19 restrictions after the health minister urged people not to let discipline slip at Christmas.

Tighter restrictions put in place on 27 November to curb the spread of the virus end at 23:59 GMT on Thursday.

That means non-essential retail, close-contact services such as hairdressers, and some parts of the hospitality sector can resume trading from Friday.

But Robin Swann said NI was entering a “potentially dangerous phase”.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Swann warned: “There is a real risk that over the festive season discipline will slip further.”

The executive has been advised that if the number of coronavirus cases rises sharply in the next few weeks, restrictions would need to be reimposed before the new year.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has not ruled out the possibility of such a move.

“I hope we don’t have to get to the point where we have to bring in more restrictions but we have to keep everything on the table,” said Ms O’Neill on Tuesday.

With the easing of the restrictions, many hospitality businesses, including restaurants, cafes and hotels, can reopen their doors on Friday but must be closed at 23:00 each day.

Pubs that do not serve food will have to remain shut.

The end of the lockdown also means:

Although bars that offer meals – that have been cooked in their own kitchen – can reopen from Friday, the owners of some venues have decided to keep their premises closed until next year.

The family which owns Belfast’s well-known Lavery’s Bar and the Pavilion Bar said they made that decision “with the greatest regret”.

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make and we are so sorry for any disappointment it causes,” they added.

The owners of the John Hewitt Bar in the city said that although “this time of year is the time we look forward to the most” the safety measures the hospitality sector must adhere to under the terms of reopening were “just too heavy for us to operate”.

Three bars in Omagh, County Tyrone, have also decided to remain closed after 11 December.

Bogan’s, Sally’s of Omagh and the Blind Cobbler, which all offer meals, said they would not be reopening for the festive period.

In a post on facebook, Bogan’s said the decision was “incredibly difficult to make, but ultimately we feel this is the right thing to do, for the safety of our staff and for our customers”.

The Blind Cobbler team said they realised the announcement would be “disheartening and disappointing”, but looked “forward to brighter times ahead”.

Sally’s said it looked forward to 2021 “when we can reopen and provide everyone with a night out free from restrictions”.

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