Sigh of relief for citizens and businesses in Derry as Executive confirms COVID-19 restrictions will ease as planned

There was a sigh of relief among citizens and businesses in Derry this afternoon as the Executive confirmed COVID-19 restrictions will be significantly eased as planned from Monday.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 6:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 6:30 pm

Ministers agreed to rubber-stamp a raft of reopenings across a range of sectors at a scheduled meeting on Thursday.

They said the easements will be immensely beneficial to families, communities and the economy, and urged everyone to stay safe as they enjoy more freedoms.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This is a day of positive progress on our road to recovery as we have been able to confirm significant relaxations to the restrictions from Monday, May 24.

A raft of restrictions are to be eased on Monday.

“As we begin to rebuild, we are very much focused on personal, societal and economic wellbeing. This latest set of easements will have wide-reaching benefits for individuals, families, businesses and workers.

"And after what has been an incredibly tough time for everyone, we want people to take the good of being able to do the things they have missed; whether that’s a meal out with friends, a visit to your parents’ house, a family day trip, or a dance class.

Derry COVID-19 rate falls to 86.3 per 100,000 with over 105,000 jabs administered in city“As we look forward to better times, it is crucial that everyone continues taking steps to stop the virus from spreading. The last year has taught us that we can’t take anything for granted, so we are urging everyone to stay safe, be careful and help protect this good progress.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “I’m pleased that we are in a position to confirm the opening of more parts of our society from Monday. After an anxious wait for many, this is great news for our people and our economy. I want to thank the public for their patience and perseverance and I commend all those sectors who have worked diligently to prepare for restart.

Michelle O'Neill confirmed the relaxations after an Executive meeting this afternoon.

“There is no doubt that the impacts of the pandemic over the last year will continue to be felt deeply. But in moving forward, there is hope. Now is a time to look ahead and to enjoy these hard won freedoms safely. We must continue to do all we can as a community to keep ourselves and each other safe and I appeal to everyone to be cautious to help ensure we can keep heading in the right direction.”

The Derry Chamber of Commerce President Dawn McLaughlin welcomed the move.

She said: “It’s good news that the Executive has rubber stamped its decision from last week and paved the way for the further reopening of the economy from Monday. We have been consistent in our message that we aren’t fully open until we’re all open.

"The high street and city centre businesses are reliant on each other to thrive so it is great news that indoor hospitality and other indoor businesses like cinemas will be allowed to reopen. We can now begin to look towards the busy summer period and our economic recovery."

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster said: “We welcome confirmation by the Executive that indoor hospitality can reopen from Monday. This has been a difficult and draining period for everyone within the hospitality industry and today’s announcement will bring hope to businesses, with people getting back to work and livelihoods restored for many across the sector.”

“Acknowledgement and thanks must be paid to the Executive for their financial support and those civil servants who have worked to ensure that hospitality is able to reopen after this awful period.”

“As we now look towards Monday’s reopening, the health and wellbeing of customers, staff and the wider public will be the priority for all the hospitality sector business owners. I know that our members have stringent Covid secure processes in place so that customers can enjoy the hospitality offer once again.”

However, both the Derry Chamber President and the Hospitality Ulster boss warned of grey areas for the industry and some continuing restrictions will make it difficult for businesses to operate.

Ms. McLaughlin said: "There remains some ambiguity and grey areas within the hospitality industry over what is exactly required of them to reopen, especially in the absence of any published regulations or guidelines yet.

"It’s important that the relevant authorities take a lenient and educational approach which supports our hospitality businesses and doesn’t punish them any further, especially as many of them have invested time and money in making their premises COVID-secure.”

Mr. Neill remarked: "This is not ‘job done’ - with extensive restrictions still in place, many businesses will still struggle to break even, let alone make a profit. It is vital that we see these restrictions removed as soon as possible and engagement from the Executive as we begin the long road of rebuilding what was Northern Ireland’s fourth largest private sector employer, pre-COVID.”

Notwithstanding these concerns Mrs. McLaughlin signalled an optimistic note.

"These latest relaxations coupled with the continued success of the vaccine programme, which has been expanded even further today, bring a real sense of optimism and positivity for the coming weeks and months.

"Businesses are excited to reopen and welcome back customers and we would urge people to stay, shop and support local as they get back out and about. It’s also crucial that we continue to follow the basics of mask wearing, hand washing, good ventilation, and social distancing to keep cases down and ensure the economy isn’t restricted again.”