Coronavirus: NI hotels and bars to reopen their doors

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Media captionBBC News NI explains what customers can expect as pubs and restaurants reopen

Northern Ireland’s hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes can reopen from Friday, after months of closure during the coronavirus lockdown.

Pubs and bars must serve food and operate on a table service basis; those pubs that do not serve food will be allowed to sell alcohol outdoors.

The tourism industry had been given an initial indicative date of 20 July, but had lobbied for earlier re-opening.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds hailed Friday as a “great day”.

  • Q&A: What has and has not changed in NI lockdown?

The hospitality sector was a cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s economy, employing 65,000 people and generating £1bn in revenue each year, said Mrs Dodds.

“But these businesses also represent something more,” she added.

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Hotels in Northern Ireland will be opening their doors again on Friday

“They are the places people go to socialise, relax and enjoy themselves.

“People will be very pleased to once again have the opportunity to visit cafés, hotels, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions.”

What else can open?

Visitor attractions such as museums and heritage sites can also reopen on Friday, including the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh and the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast.

Giant’s Causeway general manager Max Bryant said: “We are delighted to be able to reopen the site and we’re really looking forward to welcoming visitors back.

“The safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors is our top priority and we have been working hard behind the scenes to implement social distancing measures and hygiene practices. “

Tourists wishing to visit Rathlin Island using the ferry service will be permitted to do so, but capacity on board vessels will be restricted due to social distancing measures.

Although hotels will reopen, their spas and leisure facilities will remain closed for now.

Betting shops can also re-open on Friday.

What will eateries look like?

The first and deputy first ministers had previously stressed that social distancing rules must be adhered to by all those businesses seeking to reopen.

Last month, the Stormont executive agreed to reduce social distancing in Northern Ireland from 2m (6ft) to 1m, with restrictions.

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Harbour and Company

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Changed times – the inside of Harbour and Company in Donaghadee, which is reopening on Friday

Members of the hospitality industry had argued the 1m move was necessary to help them restart their businesses.

Jody Waterworth, who runs Pier 36 and Harbour and Company in Donaghadee, County Down, said he would be adopting the 1m social distancing guidance while trying to make sure customers had “as normal an experience as possible”.

“We’ve put measures in place on a social distance front and we’ve got both restaurants ready and we’re looking forward to receiving the customers,” he told BBC News NI.

“I feel the time is right, the cases of the virus are low and the trend is going lower and lower.

“We’ve been given the directive to go.”

Joan Noble, the owner of Riverfront Coffee House in Omagh, County Tyrone, admitted feeling nervous about opening, but added that she was looking forward to it.

Customers seated at tables would be shielded by a perspex screen and “they should feel very safe within it”, she said.

“The virus is here – it’s not going anywhere, it’s not going away and to get open again we have to put staff and customers at the top of the list,” said Ms Noble.

“We just have to make sure they’re safe – to do that we have taken big measures. We want to get people back out again.”

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However, Simon McCance of Ginger Bistro in Belfast will not be opening his business until at least the start of August.

“Personally, as an employer with a duty of care to my staff, I feel it’s just a little bit risky,” he said.

“We are in a situation where we can afford to stay closed but we can’t open and close again, if something like what has happened in Leicester or Florida or Texas [happens], that would be devastating for me.”

‘Follow advice’

Health Minister Robin Swann has urged people to drink responsibly when bars reopen.

He said: “I am not out to spoil anyone’s enjoyment. However, I have to remind everyone once again that the threat from Covid-19 is still very much with us.

“We are all familiar with the phrase ‘when the drink’s in, the wit’s out’. I hope and trust this will not be the case in Northern Ireland.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride urged the public not to put at risk the progress made in the fight against coronavirus.

“Responsible socialising means remaining vigilant about the virus and continuing to follow the public health advice,” he said.

Guidance to help businesses keep staff and customers safe has been published on the Tourism NI and nibusinessinfo websites.

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