Fears for COVID passport impact on hospitality sector

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s economic development and regeneration committee  is to write to the Executive requesting further financial support for the hospitality sector.

The proposal was put forward by DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter, during the committee’s meeting on Tuesday, December 14, and comes amid concerns about the Omicrom variant of COVID-19 and the introduction of the COVID passport scheme.

Cllr Baxter said he and his colleagues have been contacted by a number of businesses in the hospitality sector who have expressed concern over what the introduction of the COVID passport scheme will mean for their businesses.

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“To be frank they are losing bookings hand over fist as a result,” he said. “They are going to struggle financially. This is usually bonanza time for hospitality and it is going to be severely impacted by this decision from Stormont.

Cllr Mark Baxter.

“I propose that we write to the Executive asking what financial package is going to be put in place or what support is going to be given to businesses who will suffer as a result of what has happened.”

The proposal was seconded by his party colleague, Alderman Stephen Moutray who said he feared for the state of the hospitality industry in the new year.

“Nobody wants to put people at risk but already there are signs hospitality is drying up with Christmas parties and lunches being cancelled,” he said, “I really fear for this sector and am happy to second the proposal.”

Councillor Paul Berry asked what practical steps Council could take to help local businesses.

Cllr Paul Berry.

“We want to keep people as safe as possible but we understand the very difficult position the Health Minister and others are in relation to this, especially in the Southern Trust,” said Cllr Berry.

“However, two weeks ago a number of us were in a local restaurant with friends socialising and the owner said he was on the verge of a stroke because even then, when there was a hint of COVID passports, cancellations were coming in, in their dozens.

“We have to keep people safe but this is having a really bad impact on businesses out there that have suffered so much. Frankly the health of business owners is now being impacted in a different way. I think something clearly needs to be done.”

Council’s strategic director of community and growth, Olga Murtagh said officers will liaise with “trade network groups” and bring further information back to members.