Nov 20, 2020
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Bad news for N Ireland stores as lockdown extended into December

Nov 20, 2020

A new extension to the pre-Christmas retail ‘circuit-breaker' in Northern Ireland could turn into a longer power cut for many businesses deemed non-essential.

The devolved government delivered more bad news for its store retailers, introducing significantly increased restrictions that will take effect for two weeks from Friday 27 November.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said the decision to shut non-essential stores until December 11 couldn’t come at a worse time for them. That will cut pre-Christmas trading days down to just 14.

Retailers also warned the decision would be a further major boost for online retail. One told Sky News that the extension meant "Christmas had come early for Amazon".

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, also told Sky: "The executive has made a decision which will kill small business, rather than the virus.

"This appalling decision will be a hammer blow to our already struggling high streets and for thousands of independent retailers forced to close at the most important trading time for the year. Tens of thousands of jobs and small businesses are now at risk with this ill-considered move”, he warned.

Retail NI director Aodhan Connolly added: "The closure of non-essential retail during what is our golden quarter is a huge blow to retailers already feeling the squeeze of decreased footfall and increased costs.

"November and December are peak trading months and million of pounds per week will be lost in sales during what should be our busiest period.”

Simon Hamilton, chief executive of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, also told the BBC the decision to close retail “is probably the biggest boost to online shopping in Northern Ireland since the invention of the internet.

"It cannot be understated what damage a decision to close shops at this time will do to jobs."

The Northern Ireland executive met on Thursday after Health Minister Robin Swann warned more restrictions were necessary by the end of November. If not, he said a full lockdown in mid-December “wouldn’t be enough to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed”.

The executive also warned further restrictions haven't been been ruled out, but it said the new restrictions represent “the best chance of getting us to Christmas”.

The extended ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown comes alongside significantly increased restrictions for the hospitality sector and close-contact services that have already been closed for five weeks.

It means close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, which are permitted to reopen this weekend, will be closed again a week later. Pubs and licensed restaurants, which were due to reopen on 27 November, will remain closed for another two weeks.

The NI executive is set to develop more financial support packages for businesses in the next few days.

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