Logic of North reopening for one week before new restrictions questioned

ireland
The reopening of coffee shops and close-contact services for a week have raised fears of a rush of shoppers. Photo: PA Images.
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By David Young and Rebecca Black, PA

Questions have been raised in Northern Ireland over the logic of businesses reopening for one week before having to close for a fresh round of lockdown restrictions.

The Stormont Executive announced on Thursday evening that non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants must close for two weeks from November 27th.

Several relaxations of restrictions agreed last week went ahead on Friday, with coffee shops and close-contact services such as hairdressers reopening. Those business will be forced to close again next Friday when the ramped-up lockdown is introduced.

The latest announcement by the executive has been widely criticised by business representatives, who have accused the administration of mishandling the pandemic response and failing to provide sufficient financial support to help struggling firms.

Darren Gardiner, who owns the Ground Espresso Bars chain, said he fears a rush of customers before the second lockdown comes into force.

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Everyone is going to go out and everywhere is going to be packed

“It’s going to drive so many people out into hospitality as opposed to a nice gradual approach that allowed us to service customers’ needs and requirements between now and Christmas,” he said.

“Everyone is going to go out and everywhere is going to be packed, there will be queues everywhere, the shops are all going to be busy as people race to get Christmas shopping, and we just can’t see the logic in it.”

Contradictory

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she raised concerns with the North's health minister that businesses could open on Friday before having to close again next week.

“I believe that it is contradictory in a sense because you are telling the public, and rightly so, that they are in a very difficult position and health care workers and our health system is under huge pressure, and we need to intervene, but at the same time you’re allowing businesses to open this morning,” she said.

“I put that to the health minister, very bluntly, very clearly, and was told they were content that this was ok, that this was factored into the modelling which they had brought in front of us.”

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The restrictions agreed by the executive late on Thursday are more severe than proposals that were vetoed by the DUP last week, prompting rivals to accuse the party of a major U-turn.

When we look at our hospital numbers they are at their highest they have been

On Friday, First Minister Arlene Foster justified her party’s change in stance, insisting it had responded to worsening medical and scientific evidence – namely a rise in the reproduction number of the virus to above 1.

“When we look at our hospital numbers they are at their highest they have been, even when we look back to the first peak back in March/April time,” she said.

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“Our health service staff are very tired, we understand that. So there was a need to put in these interventions."

Ms O’Neill said the decision was “difficult but right," but criticised the DUP-led department of the economy, claiming it was unnecessarily delaying the distribution of support funding.

“The executive needs to meet today, tomorrow, Sunday, Monday to get that money out the door,” she said.

The deaths of a further 12 people with Covid-19 were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Friday, along with 369 new cases of the virus.

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