Derry reopening to start from next week with Chamber chief describing return of retail as 'very positive' after a 'tough four months'
A raft of COVID-19 restrictions are to be relaxed with increased household mixing outdoors, haircuts, shopping and al fresco pints and dinners all on the cards by the month’s end.
This afternoon the Executive agreed a timetable for the further liberalisation of lockdown.
As early as next Friday, April 23, you will be able to get your hair cut with the return of close contact services.
By April 30 all shops will be allowed to once again welcome customers and ring their tills and pubs, cafés and restaurants will be able to serve up to six people from two households on terraces and in beer gardens only.
The President of the Chamber of Commerce Dawn McLaughlin described the announcement that shops will be allowed to reopen next week as ‘very positive’ after a ‘tough four months.’
“This is a welcome announcement and the first step in the journey back to normality.
“We are very pleased to see swift movement on the likes of close-contact services from next week and the reopening of all retail by the end of April is very positive.
“After a tough four months, local retailers and our high streets will welcome the return of customers and shoppers once again.”
Announcing the relaxations in the Assembly this evening the First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a landmark day for NI as we step firmly and with confidence on our pathway to recovery.
“I am pleased and proud that through our collective efforts we have reached a point where we have established a good level of control over the virus. We are now entering brighter and better times.
“This balanced package of relaxations will restore those familiar aspects of everyday life that have been missed dearly. I urge everyone to stay with us and keep following the health advice so that we can continue with our plans to more fully open up our society over coming weeks.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Today, the light at the end of the tunnel has just got a little bit brighter.
“This is a day of positive progress. We have agreed a significant package of easements which will make a fundamental difference to people’s lives and wellbeing. The restrictions have been a necessary response to the pandemic, to suppress the virus and save lives.
“But they have taken their toll on people right across our society. I’m delighted that we are now in a position to move forward, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the public and the success of our vaccination programme. We can all take comfort from this progress and look forward to doing the things that are important to us while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible.”
Under the relaxations from April 30 up to 15 people from three different households will be able to meet up in gardens or back yards, gyms can re-open and people will be allowed to stay in self-catering tourist accommodation.
An indicative date of May 24 has been given when pubs, cafés and restaurants will be allowed to serve patrons indoors.
Equally it will be at least another five weeks before hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses re-open and before people are allowed to mix freely again indoors. Outdoor visitor attractions will be permitted to open again from next Friday but indoor ones will have to wait until May 24 at least.
Janice Gault, the Derry-born head of the Hotels Federation (NIHF) said: “The hotel industry is going through one of the longest periods of lockdown, currently sitting at 111 days of business closure. We feel that we are often portrayed as part of the problem when in fact we are part of the solution. Hotels offer a safe, well-regulated and COVID-19 compliant environment.
"The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, on behalf of members, requested an opening date of no later than May 17, 2021, to allow the industry to take advantage of the summer season, to satisfy staycation demand and stage weddings. Over 1,000 weddings will have been rescheduled, cancelled or staged in a scaled back and unsustainable manner.
"We welcome the news that easements are underway with unlicensed and licensed premises such as restaurants, beer gardens, coffee shops and cafes able to open outdoors on 30 April. Indoor hospitality venues, including pubs and hotels, are then set to reopen on May 24 which is a compromise position but a welcome indicative date. It has been a very difficult day for everyone in the sector with much anxiety and we await the finer details once the final agreement has been outlined.
Next week driving instruction and testing as well as Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning - an important treatment for people living with disabilities or mental health issues - will return.
The next review of the regulations under the Pathway out of Restrictions will be carried out on May 13, 2021.
Ms. McLaughlin said the Derry Chamber was pleased to see a ‘sensible and workable agreement’ on the reopening of hospitality and tourism.
“The reopening of outdoor hospitality, both licenced and unlicensed, by the end of this month is a common sense decision by Ministers and gives businesses ample time to prepare and order stock.
"While the reopening of indoor hospitality is now planned later than expected, it is crucial that everything is done to make sure that our pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels can reopen on May 24 without any further delay.”