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Unfair to keep wet pubs closed, says Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster.

A decision to keep traditional/wet pubs closed, while other hospitality venues, churches, gyms, non-essential retail and close contact services will reopen on December 11, has been condemned by Hospitality Ulster.

The Northern Ireland Executive made the announcement last night, after meeting at Stormont to decide which Covid-19 restrictions would continue after the current two-week regulations come to an end next Friday.

“It is simply unfair and unjust,” said Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster. “This is nothing but terrible news for owners and staff in traditional pubs who have once again been unfairly singled out to bear the brunt of the Covid lockdown for the greater good.

“Our traditional pubs have only been open for three weeks since March (two weeks in Derry/Strabane) so they cannot be responsible for the spread of the virus. Despite that, the opportunity for them to trade and try and recoup a small amount of the massive losses they have suffered throughout this year has now been taken away.

“We understand that the existing funding package for enforced closure will stay in place, but it simply does not cover half of what is needed to keep a pub closed during this lockdown.

“Traditional pubs were closed throughout the summer with backdated financial support only announced last week. This decision will see the end of many of these businesses and business owners will have no other choice but to lay staff off in larger numbers.

“The idea of a packed, sweaty pub with close contact is a dim distant memory and no longer exists – enduring Covid regulations have put an end to that. Food-led hospitality was open for months without an increase in the R number and our traditional pubs can operate under the same strict regulations, ensuring a Covid-safe environment.

“It is simply unfair and unjust to keep pubs closed when the evidence shows they have not been the site of transmission.

“It obvious that pubs are being sacrificed to compensate for inability to control the spread of the virus in wider society. Government must now provide proper financial compensation before it’s too late.

“We are also dismayed at the new guidance with regard to 2m social distancing. Businesses were forced to spend thousands of pounds on screens and other measures and we are now being advised to increase the distance between tables.

“We have already made it clear that businesses do not have money to waste, nor room to operate under a 2m social distance rule – it will rule out many businesses once again as unviable and unable to reopen if 2 metres is enforced. If that remains the case, then those businesses must be able to remain closed and claim closure grants.”

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