Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland plea for financial support as new Covid restrictions announced

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland plea for financial support as new Covid restrictions announced

Related tags Northern ireland Coronavirus

Nightclubs in Northern Ireland will be closed and gatherings in pubs and restaurants will be limited to six people under new Coronavirus curbs set to be introduced from Boxing Day.

The new restrictions, which are targeted almost exclusively at hospitality settings, were announced yesterday (23 December) by Stormont ministers to tackle rising Covid cases in the country.

However, there has been criticism levelled at the Northern Ireland Executive after it failed to confirm any additional financial support for businesses affected.

From 6am on 26 December, nightclubs will be closed; dancing in all hospitality venues will not be allowed; and all indoor standing events will be cancelled.

Then from 27 December, there will be requirement for customers to be seated in all indoor hospitality settings with a maximum of six people, or 10 people from a single household, allowed at a table.

There will also be a statutory duty on businesses to take reasonable measures to promote compliance with face covering requirements, with a grace period until 7 January before enforcement is implemented.

Frustratingly for hospitality firms, the restrictions are primarily targeted at hospitality settings, with only 'strong recommendations' being introduced for mixing in household settings; and no capacity limits on outdoor sporting events, although this will be reviewed on 30 December.

First Minister Paul Givan said the new restrictions were 'balanced and proportionate'.

He said: "The message is the same, whether it is in regulation or guidance, we appeal to public to follow us and to put into practice those public health messages."

With regards to financial support, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said ministers were working on a package to help affected businesses, and said they would continue to press Westminster for more support.

She said: "This intervention is informed by the medical and scientific advice and it takes account of the wider economic and societal impacts."

Business representatives, though, have condemned ministers for failing to offer any immediate financial support.

"Announcing businesses closure without knowing what (if any) financial support is available is contemptable and shows no consideration for staff and business owners," said Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster.

"Businesses closed, additional restrictions imposed and supply chains impacted, all without details of financial support. What sort of situation is that to force upon an industry that is crying out for support?

"Business owners and staff have been left high and dry about their future over Christmas."

The Belfast Chamber of Commerce (BCC), meanwhile, branded the lack of financial help as being 'unacceptable and unforgivable'.

“For weeks now, businesses who have experienced a difficult 2021, have been subjected to a drip feed of speculation and scaremongering about possible lockdowns and further restrictions,” said BCC chief executive Simon Hamilton, a former DUP minister in the Stormont Executive.

“As the rhetoric ramped up, the impact on businesses was very real as millions of pounds of trade disappeared, causing owners and their teams huge distress.

“Now, the Executive has added insult to injury. As well as having to deal with the impact of additional measures, businesses haven’t been offered a single penny in financial support. That is simply unacceptable and unforgivable.

“What sort of a message does that send to the thousands of people who rely on jobs in the affected sectors and their supply chains to heat their homes and feed their families?

“It is shameful that they now face into an uncertain future after all they’ve endured already. It feels like businesses, their owners and their staff have been cast aside without a care.”

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