Stormont ministers agree to extend hospitality restrictions

By Michael McHugh, David Young and Rebecca Black, PA
·3-min read

Ministers in Northern Ireland have agreed to extend pandemic restrictions on hospitality for two weeks from November 27.

Close-contact services and cafes can open this Friday as planned but will have to close again next Friday, while other hospitality sectors like pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed throughout.

From November 27, non-essential retail and services like hairdressers, beauticians and driving lessons will also have to shut to protect an NHS battling a surge in coronavirus cases.

Takeaway hospitality services will be allowed but leisure and entertainment services will be closed.

Colin Neill, chief executive of industry group Hospitality Ulster, said: “There is a huge amount of anger right across the hospitality industry.

“We have been left with left with no trade, no hope and a huge amount of redundancies on our hands.”

The measures were taken as top doctors warned hospitals could otherwise be overwhelmed.

Aodhan Connolly, of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “This couldn’t come at a worse time for the retail industry.

“November and December are peak trading months and millions of pounds per week will be lost in sales during what should be our busiest period.”

The Stormont Executive also decided sporting events will only be allowed for elite athletes, with no spectators.

Other decisions included:

– Rules around household gatherings will be unchanged and places of worship will close.

– People will be strongly encouraged to stay at home and work from home.

– Schools and child care centres can remain open and universities will conduct distanced learning except where it has to be face to face.

– Outdoor playgrounds can remain open.

Health Minister Robin Swann warned that more interventions were necessary before the end of this month to curb the spread of coronavirus.

His ultimatum to Stormont colleagues stated that if they did not take action, a full lockdown in mid-December would not be enough to prevent hospital services from being overwhelmed.

Close-contact services, coffee shops and cafes had been set to reopen this Friday.

Restrictions on pubs, restaurants and hotels were to expire next Thursday.

A Stormont Executive meeting concluded on Thursday evening.

Mr Swann also asked fellow ministers to consider local travel restrictions which were legally enforceable.

So far they have only advised against “unnecessary travel”.

Northern Ireland’s two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have been at loggerheads recently over how quickly to reopen the economy.

Health minister Robin Swann
Robin Swann asked ministers to consider local travel restrictions (Handout/Press Eye/PA)

The unionist party had spoken out against more restrictions on hospitality.

The DUP recently used a peace process-designed veto to thwart its powersharing partner Sinn Fein’s plans to order an extension of Northern Ireland’s circuit-breaker.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is expected to receive up to 4.3 million doses of two coronavirus vaccines once they receive official authorisation, the Department of Health has said.

The country will take 2.85% of the total amount that eventually becomes available to the UK – in line with the formula dividing resources.

The department added: “Currently two of the leading vaccines, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have completed their final phase three trials and will now be seeking authorisation from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).

“Both of these vaccines may therefore be authorised and available for use in the UK by the end of December.

“In addition to the 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Northern Ireland is also expected to receive up to 2,850,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Another 487 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said.

A total of 3,401 cases have been diagnosed over the last seven days.

Another 12 deaths were reported, the department’s daily update showed.