A last-minute alcohol retail sales curfew in Northern Ireland is clearing shelves and causing concerns of a ‘nightmare’ weekend amongst small shop owners.

Off licences and supermarkets in Northern Ireland will be unable to sell alcohol after 8pm from Friday, when the region is set to be plunged into a four-week “circuit breaker” COVID-19 lockdown.

First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the decision on Wednesday in response to soaring coronavirus cases, during a special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Retail can remain open, however pubs and restaurants that do not offer a takeaway service will be forced to close. Food deliveries will be permitted until 11pm and all alcohol sales will be banned after 8pm. 

Asked about the impact on shop owners in the region NFRN membership services manager and former shop owner Gwen Patterson told RN: “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since last night, stores are saying there was no notice and Sainsbury’s shelves were wiped off alcohol. Stores are up in arms because they couldn’t prepare – alcohol orders were placed a week in advance so there’s been no chance to prepare for the huge surge in demand that will happen this weekend due to hospitality businesses shutting. It will be a nightmare.

“Shops open until after 8pm will need to take extra measures to prevent customers picking up alcohol lines beyond this time, potentially manning the off-licence sections in order to reduce the potential for confrontation and abuse. A lot of stores are being proactive, making sure customers are aware on social media and highlighting their delivery services as a means of getting their alcohol lines delivered before the cut-off time.”

Patterson advised stores in other areas to take note, as politicians in areas such as Manchester and Wales had recommended similar curfews.

Trade group Retail NI expressed ‘relief’ that a full lockdown had been avoided for now, but warned of dire implications for hospitality businesses.  Chief executive Glyn Roberts commented: “We are extremely concerned about the impact of the closure of the hospitality sector will have on reducing footfall for our members and our high streets.”

“Let’s be very clear – there cannot be a return to full lockdown,” he concluded.

Retail alcohol sales in Wales and Scotland are also restricted to 10pm by Covid restrictions and pre-existing legislation respectively. England is the only remain part of the Kingdom where shoppers can buy alcohol beyond 10pm.

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