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Large queues outside Primark and other retailers in Belfast as restrictions ease in the North

All non-essential retail can resume from today in the North.

Updated Apr 30th 2021, 2:35 PM

coronavirus-fri-apr-30-2021 Shoppers queue outside Primark in Belfast as shops reopen and hospitality is able to open outdoors in Northern Ireland Source: Mark Marlow via PA Images

NORTHERN IRELAND HAS taken a major stride out of lockdown as many hospitality and retail outlets reopened their doors after four months of closure.

Publicans, cafe owner and restaurateurs are now able to trade outdoors, while all non-essential retailers can pull their shutters up once again.

There were long queues outside popular retail outlets such as Primark in Belfast from early on Friday morning as hundreds of shoppers returned to the city centre.

From today, the limit on outdoor gatherings in gardens increases to 15 people from no more than three households. 

Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, is also allowed to operate from today. 

coronavirus-fri-apr-30-2021 Members of the public enjoy a drink at a bar in Belfast Source: Mark Marlow via PA Images

More restrictions are set to be lifted on May 24, although these are subject to review.

From that date, pubs and restaurants can operate indoors, people will be allowed to gather in homes, and indoor attractions can reopen.

Other tourist accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs can also reopen.

Wedding receptions and post-burial events can take place in indoor hospitality venues, after appropriate risk assessments are undertaken.

Close-contact services, including hairdressers and beauty parlours, reopened on 23 April in the North. 

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said it was a good day for Northern Ireland’s economy.

She also highlighted that the Stormont Executive’s delayed high street voucher scheme is set to start operating at the end of the summer, with every adult in Northern Ireland eligible for a £100 prepaid card to spend in the local retail sector.

“Today’s a really good day for the economy,” she said on a visit to the Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast.

“Our shops are opening, our hospitality is able to open outdoors, our self-contained accommodation is opening, we’re announcing the high street voucher scheme.

“1.4 million people in Northern Ireland will be entitled to a prepaid card, which will give them £100 to spend in the shops, it’s an investment in local businesses, in local shops here in Northern Ireland.”

Dodds added: “This is a huge investment in the high street, in retail because retail has suffered enormously during the pandemic, and with this almost vicious cycle of lockdowns.”

coronavirus-fri-apr-30-2021 Shoppers queue outside Primark in Belfast Source: Mark Marlow via PA Images

‘Chaos’

While the latest easing of restrictions has been widely welcomed, a number of bars have said they will not be able to reopen after being told their outdoor areas do not conform to requirements.

Many bar owners say their outdoor areas, now judged to be too enclosed, have not changed from what was permitted to open following the easing of the first lockdown last year.

Outdoor premises should not be more than 50% enclosed, according to health guidance.

Hospitality Ulster said there was “chaos” over the implementation of the rules and many venues had been told their outdoor seating areas did not adhere to guidelines from the Executive.

The Executive insisted yesterday there had been “no change” around rules for outdoor hospitality venues and the “definition of indoor and outdoor areas which applied last year” still applied.

coronavirus-fri-apr-30-2021 Shops and outdoor hospitality venues are reopening across Northern Ireland Source: Mark Marlow via PA Images

Local councils are inspecting hospitality premises in their respective areas.

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In a statement, Belfast City Council said it had a “statutory obligation to ensure compliance within the coronavirus restrictions, set by the NI Executive”.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the issue was discussed at a meeting of the Executive on Thursday and that they want people to be able to open their doors as planned and that there was “no desire to put any additional obstacles in anyone’s way”.

coronavirus-fri-apr-30-2021 Shoppers in Belfast city centre today Source: Mark Marlow via PA Images

Vaccination rollout 

Today’s reopening comes as no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland yesterday. 

The Department of Health said there had been an additional 95 cases of the virus confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period. 

Yesterday morning, there were 61 Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, with eight classified as intensive care patients. 

Health Minister Robin Swann this morning announced that the region’s vaccine programme is now open to the 30-34 age group.

Some limited appointments for people in that cohort will be available at the mass vaccination centre at Belfast’s SSE Arena.

“In less than five months we have vaccinated almost one million people, and thousands of our citizens have been able to receive the vaccine well ahead of schedule,” he said.

“I know that we all long for a sustainable return to more normal times and vaccination offers the best hope for this. Uptake is very encouraging, and I’m pleased that we are moving so quickly through the cohorts.

“We have a limited number of slots that we can now offer to those aged 30 to 34, so, if you’re eligible, I would urge you to step forward and take the opportunity to get the jab.”

Includes reporting by Press Association and Stephen McDermott.

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