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Evidence questions hospitality lockdown, says Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

Hospitality Ulster has said evidence released by the Department of Health late last night shows it is not a major spreader of the Covid-19 virus, raising concerns closure of the hospitality sector for four weeks on October 16 is based on anecdotal evidence.

“We have been asking for the evidence base for some time to see if there was anything more our industry could do to make it even safer, even after we had a whole raft of legally enforceable controls put in place,” said Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster. “We took our responsibilities in his area very seriously and business owners spent tens of thousands of pounds each to get their businesses ready.”

“We feel like our industry has been vilified, but now when the evidence is published, it clearly states that the closure of the hospitality sector will have 0.1-0.2 impact on the R number and that the lockdown has been brought about to ensure behavioural and policy compliance in other areas.

“The claims and statements in the document published are broad and sweeping and we need to get to the bottom of some of the assertions. For example, restaurants are mentioned in the papers, but there are various categories of restaurants; it doesn’t even specifically mention pubs and says that the impact of the curfew is marginal. It also worryingly states that the impact to jobs and livelihoods will be high if the sector is locked down.

“We recognise that people are doing a really tough job and that each risk removed helps to bring down the R number to below 1, but this is a deeply worrying development and we must now seek clarity from the Health Minister about the formula behind the numbers and work with the Executive to develop a plan for reopening the sector now that it has been presented that hospitality is not the problem.

“We simply cannot endure the extension of the current four-week closure or get into a stop start situation as we are now facing the end of our industry as we know it. One fact that the evidence reinforced was the impact of closure is high and that’s a real tangible fact that can been seen in every town and village.

“The sector should not be used as a balance to uncontrollable risks in the home. We are no scapegoat, but if we are closed because we are a manageable risk to mitigate against other uncontrollable risks, like the lack of social distancing in society, then that message must be clearly stated and our staff and industry must be compensated properly for the devastating impact this has caused to business owners and employees – we are losing livelihoods every single day we are in this mess.

“We have been at the forefront in addressing our industry’s weakness in relation to Covid measures, but the Executive must also recognise its weaknesses, getting society to buy-in to the ‘hands, face, space’ message is their job, it hasn’t delivered on that and hospitality is paying the price.”

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