Coronavirus: Theatre and pub reopening in NI delayed

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

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image copyrightDerry Playhouse
image captionThe Playhouse in Londonderry had been given an indicative reopening date of 1 September

Theatres in Northern Ireland will not be able to reopen to audiences next week as originally planned, the Executive Office has said.

They had been given an indicative date of 1 September to resume business.

But the executive said it would not give the green light to the move due to the "increased transmission" of coronavirus in NI.

Indoor pubs that do not serve food have also been told they cannot reopen next week either.

They had initially been given a date of 10 August to reopen, but this was pushed back to 1 September at the earliest several weeks ago.

'Colossal job losses'

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the decision on pubs was "catastrophic news" for the industry.

He said the executive must "now come forward with immediate financial assistance" for publicans.

"Without this, thousands of jobs will be lost along with a vital part of the hospitality sector here," he said.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionAt present, pubs and hotel bars in Northern Ireland can only fully open if they serve food

Mr Neill added there was little evidence to suggest traditional non-food pubs were any higher risk than venues which have reopened.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said the decision would leave many rural pubs "with no option but to close".

In a tweet, Ms Gildernew said she understood why the executive had further delayed reopening but said she was disappointed "a support package wasn't announced too".

Publican Brian Hunter, from Dromora, also believes many rural pubs will never reopen.

"The job losses are going to be colossal," he said.

"It is going to be hard winter with many places struggling to stay open".

Theatre venues and concert halls had been allowed to resume rehearsals with staff from 8 August.

Kieran Griffiths of Londonderry's Playhouse theatre said the pandemic had been "an awfully sad time" for NI's arts sector.

He said more financial support was needed for arts organisations.

"There is a will (to keep going) from the theatre community and I hope that all governments across all regions would support that, to keep us producing for the community," he said.

In a statement to BBC News NI, an Executive Office spokesperson said ministers had agreed "no further restrictions will be lifted at this time".

"The Executive has been condition-led in its relaxations of coronavirus restrictions," they said.

"It has made relaxations when it has been right to do so and also consistently stated that it will be prepared to re-introduce restrictions if it is necessary to control the spread of the virus.

"The indicative date of September 1 for the opening of wet pubs, private members clubs and audiences returning to theatres has not been ratified by the executive.

"Officials have engaged with the different stakeholder bodies and no new indicative dates have been set."

On Wednesday, the Department of Health revealed there had been no further Covid-19-related deaths recorded in Northern Ireland, but there had been 72 positive tests.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland to 6,895.

The majority of the new cases are people under the age of 40.

The department also announced that the StopCOVID NI app, which has been downloaded more than 300,000 times, will be extended to children and young people under the age of 18 from September.

Health Minister Robin Swann described this as "very good news - especially with school, colleges and universities re-starting".

Mr Swann added it was important to "maintain the momentum" after the "great achievement" of so many people downloading the app since its launch in July.

"The more people get on board, the more effective the app will be in breaking chains of transmission of the virus," he said.

The minister said his department had worked with the children's commissioner and the information commissioner's office "to identify a way that younger people can get consent to use it without impacting anonymity".

Meanwhile, two PSNI stations, in Antrim and Newtownabbey, are to reopen on Wednesday evening after eight officers had tested positive for Covid-19.

The stations were closed at the weekend and police said they had taken "appropriate steps" to "address and manage the issue".

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "We have commenced a phased return to duty for officers based in those stations as it is now assessed that it is safe to do so."

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