Retailers and food body call for clarity over NI Covid plans

Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry and independent retailers have called for more clarity over the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions.

The comments come after the Northern Ireland Executive announced its pathway out of the Covid-19 lockdown tonight (March 2).

The Executive’s document splits restrictions into nine categories but declines to offer any suggestion as to when the restrictions may start to ease.

Also Read: NI’s Covid pathway: Warning adaptions will be needed for ‘some time’

Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) said: “While the roadmap published by the Northern Ireland Executive today sets the direction of travel for the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions, we await further details in terms of dates and timelines.

Hospitality has been severely impacted over the past year, and it is vital that the Northern Ireland Executive provides more clarity for the sector in terms of the safe reopening of our cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels.

“Many of our members supply the hospitality sector and have also been deeply affected by the pandemic and subsequent restrictions.

“We look forward to once again bringing our award-winning Northern Ireland food and drink to our hospitality colleagues as soon as we are allowed to do so.

The food manufacturing sector responded quickly to the initial lockdown in March 2020, implementing new protocols on social distancing and other measures to protect our key workers as they carry out their vital work of feeding the nation.

“These measures remain in place and our protocols are regularly updated to reflect best practice and latest government guidance.”

Independent retailers criticise ‘lack of detail’

It’s not the only sector calling for more clarity. Retail NI, a group representing independent retailers in Northern Ireland, many of which remain closed, said it was “disappointed” with what had been announced.

Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Sadly, this falls far short of what is needed for a viable roadmap.

It lacks detail, contains vague criteria for moving between the steps or phases, and gives no certainty for retailers to plan ahead for reopening.

“Accepting that exact dates were not going to be in the document, the very least that could have been included should have been broad timelines to give retailers some idea of the next steps.

“While this document is disappointing, we will work with the Executive to ensure that our entire retail sector is reopened.

“We believe that non-essential retail, with the right preparation, can reopen at some point next month.”