Covid-19: One year on from lockdown businesses want clarity

By Clodagh Rice
BBC News NI Business Correspondent

image copyrightPACEMAKER
image captionMany businesses were closed by the Executives restrictions which began on 26 December

Most businesses had no idea they would still be closed one year after the initial Covid-19 lockdown announcement.

Some, like pubs that don't serve food for example, have only been open for three weeks of the last 12 months.

While the health context has changed with the rollout of a vaccine - many business have the same frustrations.

Owners still want a date to re-open and guidelines to know if when they do re-open, they will be able to operate in a way that is viable.

The current lockdown restrictions were imposed on 26 December 2020 and have been extended until at least 1 April 2021.

Some businesses have criticised the lack of detail in the NI Executive's blueprint for restrictions and in recent weeks the health minister has said it was too soon to follow a calendar-led approach.

But many businesses say they are worse off financially compared to this time last year, as any cash reserves they may have had will have taken a significant hit.

Ed Lindsay is the owner of Finnebrogue Woods wedding venue in Downpatrick, County Down.

image captionEd Lindsay wants indicative dates from the executive so he can make plans

Last year he told BBC News NI the first lockdown wiped out his bookings, but now he is still counting the cost.

"If they have to postpone twice, then really we are having to give three weddings and only get the income for one wedding. It has cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds."

He has a message for politicians at Stormont: "Show some leadership, give us a plan. Give us some indicative dates, please."

'There's no light at the end of the tunnel'

Hospitality has been among the hardest hit by restrictions.

Fably Khanam is one of the owners of 7 Spice restaurant in Belfast which opened in October - just two days before Northern Ireland entered a second lockdown.

She said if they had known they would still be in lockdown now, they would not have opened.

The new restaurant marked a significant investment of £500,000.

Now there is a question mark as to whether they will be able to afford to re-open.

image captionFably Khanam says that, for the moment, there is no light at the end of the tunnel

She said: "Because we have no date to re-open, there's no light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. Realistically, there is a possibility that the doors may not open."

"What funds we have left are just getting little and little - hardly anything's left so it's going to be difficult for us to get through."

'There's no money left in the pot'

Rosaleen Stewart owns a shop called Rosie's Emporium, in Lisburn, and is sitting with thousands of pounds of seasonal stock from Christmas to Mother's Day that she can't sell but still has to pay for.

"It's hard to believe some of this Easter stock is still here from last year," she told BBC News NI.

image captionRosaleen Stewart says there is "no money left in the pot"

"We are coming up to the end of March and we still don't know what's happening for the rest of this year.

"Easter - we're closed. We still don't know what's happening with the rest of the seasons."

She said she had Christmas and Halloween stock ordered but did not know what was going to happen.

"I had started to build up a cash reserve, that's now everything gone - personal and business wise - there's no money left in the pot," she said.

'Wait without hope'

Hospitality Ulster, which represents pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland, is calling on the executive to engage with the industry and publish the criteria which will allow them to reopen.

Chief Executive Colin Neill said: "Why does the health department not want to publish the criteria that must be met to allow us to reopen?"

image copyrightPACEMAKER
image captionMany businesses were closed by the Executives restrictions which began on 26 December

He added: "We can't afford just to have doors open and then be severely curtailed and restricted to the point that it's not financially viable.

"Any revenue gained at reopening will only be going towards the offsetting of debt that has been accumulated over the least 12 months and beyond.

"How many more days must we wait without hope? It's now 365 days and counting."

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