The NI Executive announced on Thursday (20 January) that as of midday on Friday (21 January), the requirement to be seated while consuming food and/or drink and for table service in premises that provide alcohol will be removed as will the rule of six.
It also said the minimum self-isolation period for people testing positive for Covid-19 will be reduced to five full days, subject to negative lateral flow tests on days five and six of their isolation.
From Wednesday (26 January), nightclubs will be permitted to open and dancing and indoor standing events can resume. In relation to Covid-status certification – the legal requirement will continue to apply in relation to nightclubs and indoor unseated or partially seated events with 500 people or more. For other settings where Covid status certificates are currently required, guidance would strongly encourage their continued use.
Crippling restrictions and closures
Colin Neill, chief executive of trade body Hospitality Ulster, said: “This is a welcome step forward for the hospitality industry after another round of crippling restrictions and closures which were imposed on the industry over the Christmas period. Punitive restrictions such as Covid passes; all seated; table service-only; and the closure of nightclubs were all based on previous modelling, which thankfully hasn’t come to pass.
“This is hopefully the beginning of the end for restrictions on hospitality businesses. The planned reopening of nightclubs is also very welcome, but as they were forced to close on the same Omicron modelling there is no reason why they cannot be opened immediately without Covid passes.
“Once again, people can sit at the bar and chat to friends in our pubs, they can sit all together at a table in our restaurants and enjoy a break in our hotels without the need for a pass. But removal of the remaining Covid restrictions must now be a priority as they continue to impact on trading conditions and we must never go back to such damaging restrictions again.”
Neill added that the easing of restrictions will “herald a transition” for the sector as it considers the next steps to recover from the past two years of restrictions and closures.
Massive task ahead
He said: “Make no mistake, we have a massive task ahead. The latest trading survey published this week showed the hospitality industry has never been in a worse position with trading down over 96% since the same time in 2019.”
He said the survey showed many businesses were at breaking point with many questioning if they will ever recover and also showed an urgent need for a positive message from the government for the trade.
“Now a dedicated strategy needs to be brought forward by the Executive outlining how best to push forward the recovery of the hospitality sector for it to regain its position as one of the key drivers of the Northern Ireland economy,” said Neill. “There is no doubt the decisions today by the Executive will provide incredible relief to our industry, but it will come too late for some. The work only begins now in building back and pushing forward to reinstate hospitality as the £2bn sector it once was.”
All remaining Covid measures in Northern Ireland will be reviewed by the NI Executive on 10 February.