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17 May 2022

"A momentous day" - delight and relief as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

"A momentous day" - delight and relief as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

Derry Chamber of Commerce CEO, Paul Clancy: "It’s crucial that the recovery and rebuild of our economy and our hard-hit businesses become the focus of our Executive."

“A momentous day” was the reaction of the Derry Chamber of Commerce following the lifting of Covid restrictions across the city and the North.

Health Minister Robin Swann made the announcement that as from today, all legal restrictions in Northern Ireland will be replaced by guidance.

Mr Swann also strongly emphasised the continuing need for caution and vigilance in relation to the virus.

He said: “Today’s announcement follows consideration of legal advice from the Attorney General and consultation with all Ministerial colleagues. It moves our response against Covid into a new phase. With the reduced threat from the Omicron variant, we can move away from an emergency and legalistic framework to a new approach where making safer choices is embedded in our daily lives.

The Minister for Health, Robin Swann

“That means all of us continuing to do our best to cut down risks of infection and transmission. It means looking after each other by following the public health guidance. It must always be remembered that taking unnecessary risks with Covid may affect people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“So please do not jump the gun and start behaving as if the pandemic is over. That is not the case.

“Coronavirus is likely to stay with us in some form for some time. We cannot maintain emergency restrictions indefinitely. A large part of what we currently do to protect ourselves is already covered by guidance rather than regulations. This includes self-isolating when infected and taking lateral flow tests before meeting up with others. The guidance will continue to emphasise all the steps that we should keep taking to protect each other.”

Derry Chamber of Commerce Chief-Executive, Paul Clancy, was pleased that the restrictions were being lifted and signaled the start towards a pre-pandemic return.

He said: “This is a momentous day for business and communities in Northern Ireland. After nearly two full years of restrictions on the way our businesses can trade and how we all operate in society, it’s welcome to see these pandemic regulations lifted.

“While measures like social distancing have been crucial in tackling the pandemic, they have come at considerable cost and impact to businesses of all kinds.

“With these restrictions now thankfully in the rear-view mirror, it’s crucial that the recovery and rebuild of our economy and our hard-hit businesses become the focus of our Executive, especially after the upcoming Assembly election.

“The next mandate and new Programme for Government must prioritise the stimulation of our economy once again and help our businesses get back to where they were pre-pandemic.”

Foyleside Shopping Centre manager, Fergal Rafferty, was also pleased to see the restrictions lifted but recognised that the pandemic wasn't over and said hand-santisers would still be available for concerned shoppers to use.

He said: “This is to be welcomed as another positive step towards living and working in the midst of the Covid -19 virus. Many stores are delighted to see that normal shopping conditions are gradually returning however with a note of caution as we follow the public health guidance

“We have been guided by the public health agency officials and health minister throughout this pandemic and will continue to be guided by the science behind any new regulations introduced.

“The pandemic is not over and whilst it is now no longer mandatory for visitors to wear masks in the Centre we will be promoting best practice and guidance which promotes face mask wearing, maintaining social distance, and hand-sanitisers which are all available throughout the Centre.

The Foyleside Shopping Centre in Derry

“Retailing has been impacted across the board when the restrictions allowed only essential stores to trade over the pandemic period, having said that there were a number of retailers who reported record sales growth – so there were winners and losers.

“The centre and most retailers are comparing sales projections with 2019 sales figures as a benchmark and I am delighted to report that most retailers are achieving and surpassing these targets.

“It is testament to the loyal shoppers within the North west region that Foyleside that there has been a demand for new retailers and we have introduced new tenants to the Centre who have made serious financial investments in the middle of a pandemic.

“High street brands like Frasers, Sports Direct, Waterstones, Regatta, Pandora, Bperfect, Ecco, Butlers all brand new names here with new offers to add to our already quality tenant mix. We are continuing with this trend in 2022 and hope to announce even more new brands to the Centre this year.

“Foyleside looks forward to this year with optimism with a full range of events planned in the Centre and also within the City centre as the council launches the first major event of the year with the Illuminate festival over the next two weeks.”

Meanwhile, despite the lifting of restrictions, the spectre of Covid-19 hasn't gone away.

The Derry City & Strabane District Council area saw a slight rise in Covid-19 infection cases that have ensured it no longer has the lowest rate in the North.

The rate for Derry, according to figures from the Department of Health, is now 816 cases per 100,000 – a jump from the previous figure from last week of 788 which now has the area as having the second-lowest rate.

Neighbouring Causeway Coast & Glens saw a small drop in cases but went from having the second-lowest rate to the fourth despite recording a figure of 859 compared with last week's 869.

The lowest rate in the North belongs to Fermanagh & Omagh who dropped from 891 to 732 cases per 100,000 people.

Lisburn & Castlereagh continue to have the North's highest Covid rate although their rate has been dropping over the last fortnight. Their current rate stands at 1370 cases per 100,000 people as opposed to last week's figure of 1653.

The North's overall Covid average was recorded at 1050 cases per 100,000 – a drop from last week's 1274.

Postcode rates saw an increase for BT48 which went from 678.8 to 756.4 cases per 100,000.

BT47's figures continue to rise going from last week's rate of 806.5 cases per 100,000 people to 907.9.

There was no change in the figure for Covid patients occupying ICU beds at Altnagelvin Hospital with 20 per cent of beds accommodating those with Covid.

Thirty per cent of ICU beds were occupied with non-Covid patients while 50 per cent of ICU beds were unoccupied.

Figures for overall Altnagelvin Hospital beds showed 4.51 per cent of beds occupied by Covid patients. Non-Covid patients occupied 89.01 per cent of beds.

Those patients awaiting admission totalled 6.48 per cent while Altnagelvin was running over-capacity at 2.82 per cent – a drop from last week's figure of 5.35 per cent.

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