Coronavirus: NI Executive to meet to discuss pubs and driving tests

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Pubs which only serve drink have not yet been allowed to reopen in Northern Ireland

The impact of Covid-19 on pubs and a driving test backlog are expected to be discussed at a meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday.

Calls for an extension to the government furlough scheme are also set to be on the agenda.

The first and deputy first ministers will also meet Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the Scottish and Welsh first ministers on Thursday.

The online meeting will see the latest on Brexit negotiations raised.

The Stormont executive has delayed allowing about 600 pubs, which only serve drink, to reopen.

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The 600 premises are thought to amount to about a third of the pub sector in Northern Ireland.

Executive ministers abandoned a previous indicative date of 1 September for reopening the so-called “wet pubs” and have not agreed an alternative timetable.

Ministers will discuss what kind of financial support might be provided to the wet pubs if they remain closed and whether a tougher enforcement regime should be introduced.

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One argument made by the hospitality industry is that tightening restrictions and cracking down on establishments which flout the regulations might enable more pubs which abide by the rules to open.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy is expected to seek the executive’s support to ask the UK Treasury to extend its job furlough scheme beyond October – something the prime minister has ruled out.

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Driving tests were suspended in NI on 20 March due to the coronavirus pandemic

DUP ministers are also likely to raise their concerns about support for the local taxi and coach industries and the backlog in driving tests.

The plight of learner drivers who won’t be able to take a test until next year is due to be raised at an emergency meeting of Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee.

During the executive meeting, Health Minister Robin Swann is expected to update his colleagues on the latest estimates of Northern Ireland’s R number, which indicates the level of transmission of coronavirus locally.

Ministers will also get a briefing from the education minister on the recent re-opening of schools.

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