Chamber President Dawn McLaughlin said many local bars and restaurants that had hoped to open for outdoor service on the May Bank Holiday weekend were told at the 11th hour that their premises were not COVID-compliant according to the new regulations which permit outdoor eating and drinking.
Ms. McLaughlin urged the Executive to engage properly with businesses over the coming weeks to avoid the situation that many hospitality businesses found themselves when outdoor hospitality reopened recently.
The Executive is due to review the roadmap out of restrictions this Thursday.
Businesses are pleading for much greater clarity and specificity about exactly what they can and can’t do.
Ms. McLaughlin said: “Last week’s reopening was an exciting moment for many of our businesses and it’s been a strong first week for traders in the North West. However, it’s important to keep in mind that we aren’t fully open until we’re all open. While we’re pleased for those who have got back to business, we need to bear in mind those businesses who are still unable to reopen and especially those who were told at the very last-minute that they had not met the new COVID regulations.
“Ahead of their latest review of the restrictions this Thursday, it’s vital that the Executive keeps these businesses at the forefront of their thinking. Everything must be done by our ministers to ensure that the indicative date of May becomes a firm and immovable date.
"Our businesses have been hit hard enough over the past 14 months. Now’s the time for the Executive to give these businesses confidence and optimism for the future and commit to the full reopening of our economy."
In response to criticisms from the industry over the regulations the Executive recently stated: "There has been no change to the definition of indoor and outdoor areas which applied last year.
"The definition of ‘enclosed’ and ‘substantially enclosed’ comes from the smoke-free legislation from 2007 and is directly referenced in the regulations. This was the same definition that was in place last July. The position remains that the general rule of thumb is that outdoor premises should not be more than 50 per cent enclosed."
However, the Derry Chamber is anxious to avoid a repeat of the confusion that arose when outdoor dining reopened at the end of April.
“The Executive Office must also give full and detailed clarification on what regulations will govern how our businesses can reopen on May 24. Everything must be done to avoid the incredibly frustrating situation that too many of our businesses found themselves in last week, particularly those in hospitality who have put in place stringent health and safety measures which protect staff and customers. It’s now up to the Executive to engage extensively with the business community ahead of May 24 and clearly explain what they must do.
“With the successful roll-out of the vaccine programme in Northern Ireland and more and more of our adult population now protected against the virus, there is no good reason or justification to keep our businesses closed past 24 May. The Executive must remain 100% focused on reopening," said Ms. McLaughlin.