Non-essential retail given go-ahead to reopen in North

ireland
The Stormont Exectuvie agreed to end the two-week circuit-breaker on December 11th.
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By Michael McHugh and David Young, PA

Non-essential retailers can reopen next Friday in Northern Ireland, ministers have said.

The two-week circuit-breaker ends on December 11th.

Businesses such as restaurants, cafes and hotels can also resume trading then but must be closed at 11pm each day.

Pubs that do not serve food will have to remain closed.

Guidance about social distancing within cafes and restaurants is to be set at two metres, the Stormont executive decided.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: “More good news to come after yesterday’s vaccine developments.

“Common commitment across the executive to make Christmas time as good as possible as we continue the fight against Covid.”

Another 11 people have died with Covid-19, the Northern Ireland Department of Health said on Thursday.

Some 456 people have tested positive and the seven-day total for diagnoses was 2,646.

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The two-week circuit-break was designed to drive the rate of infection down ahead of Christmas and has emptied high streets and prompted warnings about job losses from businesses.

Ms Foster said: “Most of the restrictions will come to an end next Thursday.

“Non-essential retail will open again, our hotels and restaurants will open again.

“Unfortunately those pubs known as wet pubs, which only serve alcohol, they will not reopen.”

She said official guidance would be issued around people coming into businesses on subjects like queuing and keeping apart.

“The guidance will say two metres and it is important that people try and abide by that guidance as well as taking other mitigating actions,” she added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill gave more details for plans during the five days of Christmas, when restrictions on socialising will be relaxed.

She said: “Three households can come together, one of those households can bring their bubble.”

A bubble is formed when two households have linked into a support network during the pandemic.

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Ms O’Neill urged people to have a “safe and careful” Christmas.

Ms Foster said: “Churches will reopen again at a very special time of year for those people of faith.

“Weddings and funerals go back to a position where it is risk assessed as to how many people you have at a wedding or, sadly, at a funeral.”

She said sporting events can proceed with a maximum of 500 spectators, with some exclusions surrounding schools.

The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhán Connolly, who represents larger stores, said: “It won’t make up for the loss of two weeks trading during what is our golden quarter, especially when retailers already had been feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs, but it is still welcome.

“We have always said it is not about what you sell but how you sell it and by the end of the year the retail industry will have invested over £15 million in Northern Ireland to make stores safe.

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“We will continue to play our part but we will need continued support from the executive.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster – who represents publicans, said the decision was “unfair and unjust”.

He said: “This is nothing but terrible news for owners and staff in traditional pubs who have once again been unfairly singled out to bear the brunt of the Covid lockdown for the greater good.

“Our traditional pubs have only been open for three weeks since March (two weeks in Derry/Strabane) so they cannot be responsible for the spread of the virus.

“Despite that, the opportunity for them to trade and try and recoup a small amount of the massive losses they have suffered throughout this year has now been taken away.”

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