Following a meeting of the NI Executive on Thursday evening, it was announced that close contact services and cafes can open this Friday as planned but will have to close again next Friday while other hospitality sectors like pubs and licensed restaurants will remain closed.
From November 27, non-essential retail will also have to shut, along with close contact services including driving instructors.
Takeaway hospitality services will be allowed but leisure and entertainment services will be closed.
Sporting events will only be allowed for elite athletes, with no spectators.
Rules around household gatherings will be unchanged and places of worship will close.
People will be strongly encouraged to stay at home and work from home.
Schools and child care centres can remain open and universities will conduct distanced learning except where it has to be face to face.
Outdoor playgrounds can remain open.
A retailers’ representative decribed the decision as a “devastating blow”.
Aodhán Connolly, director of Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said: “The closure of non-essential retail during what is our golden quarter is a huge blow to retailers already feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs.
“The retail industry has invested well over £10 million in Northern Ireland to make stores safe and SAGE’s advice is that the impact on covid transmission of closing ‘non-essential’ retail is low.
“The Executive has made its decision in order to restrict activity and movement by members of the public. We recognise retail has a part to play in that and we accept that ‘non-essential’ retail has to close for a short period.”
Mr Connolly added: “However, this couldn’t come at a worse time for the retail industry. November and December are peak trading months and millions of pounds per week will be lost in sales during what should be our busiest period.
“It is vital therefore that retail is able to trade again as soon as possible and so we are asking the Executive urgently to provide clarity about the criteria for reopening and to ensure that affected businesses are adequately supported in the coming months as we not only face the Covid virus but the end of the Brexit transition period.”
Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton represents traders in the city.
He said: “There is real anger tonight that the executive’s new lockdown decision will inevitably have a catastrophic effect on jobs and livelihoods.
“Many businesses have said to me that they feel they’d have been far better off being told they’d have to remain closed for this long weeks ago rather than being repeatedly given reopening dates that haven’t been realised. Their trust in this executive is now at rock bottom.”
Chair of the BMA’s NI Council Tom Black said infection rates were still too high, GP practices are still exceptionally busy and hospitals are either at or above capacity.
“It is therefore imperative that the executive does all it can to support our health service in the run-up to Christmas and beyond, and that means acting quickly and decisively on the medical and scientific advice presented to them.
“As we have seen, failure to do just that in recent weeks has undermined the hard work and selfless dedication of frontline health and social care staff, and put our health service in a precarious position heading into winter.
“It is now vitally important that the public continues to play their part and take all the precautions they can.”
On Thursday night, Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “The executive has made a decision which will kill small businesses, rather than the virus. Christmas has come early for Amazon. Tens of thousands of jobs and small businesses are now at risk with this ill-considered move.”
Aodhan Connolly, of the NI Retail Consortium, said: “This couldn’t come at a worse time for the retail industry. November and December are peak trading months and millions of pounds per week will be lost in sales during what should be our busiest period.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “The latest u-turn by the Executive not only underscores the erratic unreliability of the horse-trading Stormont but raises the compelling question of what was last week all about and where now for our beleaguered businesses, now including retail? As for close contact services, they are the ultimate Hokey Cokey plaything of Stormont. What trust can be put in the pledges of politicians who somersault so readily?
“The arbitrary closure of churches is especially cruel for many who draw solace from the public worship which is now banned by Stormont without any published scientific or medical justification.
“This is a Stormont lurching from one desperate but disparate policy to another.”
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