Covid-19: Business leaders react to NI plan to exit lockdown

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The NI Executive has set out its plan for exiting lockdown.

The blueprint does not include a timetable, but there are five steps covering nine separate pathways, ranging from retail, hospitality, worship and sport and leisure.

Progression through the plan depends on key health criteria being met.

Business and community leaders have been reacting to Moving Forward: The Executive's Pathway Out of Restrictions.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

"We welcome the activity undertaken by the executive so far in bringing forward this roadmap.

"However, it has been some time in coming and disappointing to see that parts of hospitality have been earmarked to reopen after non-essential retail and with no mention of an additional support package.

"There is a genuine fear amongst many in our sector that businesses are going to fail and jobs will be lost at the eleventh hour.

"We are really frustrated that this pathway shows no dates whatsoever and once again singles out our traditional (wet) pubs for extended closure. How are our pubs supposed to survive, and the industry plan for the re-emergence of the entire sector?"

Dr David Bruce, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Dr Bruce told BBC Radio Ulster that he welcomed the "direction of travel" outlined in the document.

He said he hoped there could be a return to services in places of worship - with a risk assessment - from 2 April (Good Friday).

He told Evening Extra that combined with the vaccine rollout, there was a clear "rationale" behind the plan.

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Michael Henderson, director of Northern Ireland Takeaway Association

"The announcement today by NI Executive will be welcoming news to all our members.

"But with the restrictions still in place for at least another four weeks we fear some of our takeaways won't last until April unless they are provided with financial support.

"Many of our members rely on the after 11pm trade with some members losing up to 60% of regular income.

"We call on the Northern Ireland Executive to include these takeaways into the Covid Restriction Business Support Scheme Part B, this would ensure our takeaway owners who are financially struggling with current restrictions can stay open for business and secure jobs across Northern Ireland until restrictions are lifted."

Jacqui Pope, head of service at GLL which runs gyms for Belfast City Council

"A timely return to outdoor sports facilities for training and group activities is to be welcomed as a positive boost for the leisure sector, however it does not go far enough.

"GLL has been calling for the reopening of gyms and swimming pools to be prioritised in the recovery plans. These services are vital to public health and wellbeing and it is disappointing no dates have been specified.

"People have a right to look after their health and get back on track with regular training and gym classes, which are widely accepted as having a positive impact on mental health.

"Gyms are ready to open safely, have low rates of Covid-19 transmission and well-rehearsed safety measures in place."

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Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

"These pathways are welcomed by the whole of the NI business community, and particularly the retail industry, who have been one of the most affected parts of our economy.

"While there is a clear pathway for leaving lockdown and reopening fully, there are still no dates in place.

"We understand that the executive will follow the science, however it is vital that there is clarity about the criteria for reopening and that government ensures affected businesses continue to be supported in the coming weeks."

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Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI

"Sadly, this falls far short of what is needed for a viable roadmap.

"It lacks detail, contains vague criteria for moving between the steps/phases and gives no certainty for retailers to plan ahead for reopening.

"Accepting that exact dates were not going to be in the document, the very least that could have been included should have been broad timelines to give retailers some idea of the next steps."

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Simon Hamilton, chief executive of Belfast Chamber of Commerce

"The executive may have agreed their route to reopening the economy, but the truth is none of us know when this journey will actually start or how long it will take.

"Each step will, no doubt, be subject to executive wrangling with businesses unable to plan properly.

"It is not too harsh to say that as far as offering both hope and certainty, this falls far short.

"Not only are there no dates, but there is no clarity about where certain health indicators need to be to move us through each of the steps, there is potential for confusing communications as different sectors and sub sectors within the pathways are at different stages, and there is the real risk that no timetable will see many businesses calling it a day."

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image captionNon-essential retail has been closed since Christmas Eve

Dawn McLaughlin, Londonderry Chamber president

"While it is encouraging to see the publication of the Pathway to Recovery... the document does little to give businesses cause for optimism or certainty for the coming weeks and months ahead.

"They need to be given time to prepare and get ready for opening their doors to customers again, especially as we move into the busy summer period to allow badly-hit businesses the opportunity to fully maximise this important trading period.

"They need to be given specific guidance on what vaccine or Covid case targets Northern Ireland needs to meet to reopen, under what circumstances they can reopen, and what safeguards and safety measures they need to put in place."

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William Miller, national director of Funeral Directors

"I think we're basically back to where we were before December, in terms of, we risk assess the venue - both externally and internally - and then advise on the numbers to families of how many mourners that can be at the funeral.

"It is a bit easier, certainly better than online services.

"It's hard for the health authorities to pinpoint a date, ideally a date would have been great for everybody.

"We'll just have to work with it. We've worked with it since last March and we'll keep on working with it and looking after the bereaved and after the people who mean the most at the time of the death."

Ken Webb, chair of the Further Education Colleges Principal's Group

"The recovery plan is welcome and attention now must turn to the safe return of our students and staff to campus and the resumption of face-to-face learning.

"College life has been disrupted now for one year with lengthy periods being spent in online, remote learning.

"This learning format cannot replace practical skills development that takes place in college campuses and coupled with remaining uncertainty over arrangements to replace examinations, there is real anxiety being felt amongst our college communities, between both students and staff."

Sandra Corkin, owner of Oasis Travel and Northern Ireland's ABTA representative

"We sort of new that foreign travel was going to be one of the last steps to happen and we already knew there wasn't going to be any specific dates given.

"There is confidence out there. Given what the UK government has said, that travel will start sometime this summer, we think Northern Ireland may follow suit.

"We are feeling a bit more confident. Certainly our customers are feeling a bit more confident that they might get a holiday sometime this year."

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