Ministers reconvene to discuss relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions

A meeting of the Stormont executive has reconvened to consider the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Ministers in the powersharing executive adjourned the meeting on Monday to seek further data on the likely impact of the easing of some restrictions, including the reopening of restaurants without alcohol being sold.

A four-week circuit-break lockdown that has forced the closure of much of the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is due to end on Thursday.

With hospitals still under sustained pressure dealing with Covid-19 admissions, ministers are set to extend some of the restrictions for a further two weeks.

Michael Deane
Chef and restaurateur Michael Deane (Liam McBurney/PA)

However, they are considering relaxing some measures. It is understood these could allow cafes and restaurants to reopen, but without alcohol being sold.

Representatives from the hospitality sector have criticised that suggestion, insisting the inability to sell alcohol would make trading unviable.

Leading Belfast restaurateur Michael Deane called the proposal “crazy”.

“Where does that leave us to go?” he asked. “Absolutely devastating and I think it is criminal, I think it is absolutely stupid.”

Other critics of the measures being considered by the DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition included DUP MP Ian Paisley.

He accused the executive of taking decisions for the “optics”, in order to make the administration look good.

Mr Paisley questioned the evidential basis for claiming the ban on alcohol in restaurants would drive down infection rates.

“It’s like saying you can open a hairdresser but you can’t use a comb,” he told the BBC.

“Seriously, what’s the evidence for that?”

It is understood the executive is also considering extending the closure of pubs that do not sell food for a further two weeks.

Ministers are also assessing whether close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, could be allowed to resume, as long as strict restrictions are observed.

At Monday’s remote executive meeting, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, ministers requested further analysis on these proposals.

It is understood chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young then worked to pull together evidence related to the specific moves.

Ministers reconvened late on Monday to consider the information.

It is understood any decisions will be announced in the Assembly chamber by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

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