Closing pubs and restaurants early ‘will have unintended consequences’

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By Cate McCurry, PA

Closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm in Northern Ireland will have “unintended consequences” for the hospitality sector, it has been claimed.

Colin Neill, from Hospitality Ulster, called for any altered closing times to be aligned with the Republic of Ireland, which currently has an 11.30pm curfew.

He warned that shutting pubs and restaurants earlier would have an impact on jobs.

Bars which do not serve food opened their doors again on Wednesday for the first time in six months, but it is expected the Assembly will be told about possible curfews on Monday.

Mr Neill said Stormont should revisit the new legislation and scrutinise it to protect jobs, adding that the new laws were established “within hours”.

“It is important that we go back and scrutinise it and get clarity and try and work to see how we protect the health of everybody, but then protect jobs and work together,” he told BBC NI.

“Just picking a random time will have unintended consequences, and it will if it’s 10pm.

“We have made the case that it should be 11pm for last drinks and everyone out for 11.30.

“If we need a curfew, which everyone at this stage thinks, people have been talking about 10pm, and England has 10pm, but we have a totally different culture than England.

“In England people go for a pint and then go home, here we go out late and the rural communities and farmers go out for a beer just to socialise.

“In the Republic of Ireland everyone has to be out by 11.30pm, so we hope it’s the same here.”

In Northern Ireland, off-licences and supermarkets can sell alcohol until 11pm most days.

Ultan Power, professor of molecular virology at Queen’s University in Belfast, warned that longer opening hours could lead to people not abiding by social distancing rules.

He said: “I do agree to a certain extent that people do need to react to various conditions, depending on the safety.

“All of that hinges on being able to identify where outbreaks are happening and this comes back to the tracking, tracing and testing systems.

“If you have longer opening hours, obviously the longer it is the more people are gong to be drinking, the more they drink the less the social inhibitions come in to play and the more people will interact. Therefore not respecting, as much as they should be, the social distancing that we need to have in order to get the numbers down.

“In this period now we have to be extraordinarily careful how we proceed and we must be incredibly reactive.

“If the numbers keep going up we must be reactive at an early stage because it takes a period of two to three weeks before we see some serious indications, in terms of hospitalisations and eventually deaths, and this is something we must be very careful of.”

A further 187 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Northern Ireland in the last 24-hour reporting period, the Department of Health has said.

It brings the total number of infections to 10,729.

There were no further deaths recorded by the department.

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