Non-essential retail shops in Ireland re-opened today following a four-month-long lockdown that begun at the beginning of 2021.

The outdoor hospitality industry also opens today as part of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s (Stormont) plan to relax Covid-19 restrictions across the country. Close-contact businesses such as hairdressers reopened last week.

This news means that all nations of the UK have reached a similar stage of lockdown leasing, with England and Wales having reopened non-essential retail on 12 April and Scotland reopening earlier this week.

Queues witnessed outside popular retailers

As non-essential retail reopens, customers have taken to social media like Twitter to share pictures and videos of long queues outside of popular retailers.

One example of a store receiving high consumer demand is fashion-chain Primark, which also experienced a similar increase in footfall upon reopening in England and Wales. This has been attributed to the fact that Primark does not have an online store.

Laura Hogan, a reporter for Irish news-channel RTE News, said on Twitter: “Hundreds of people are queuing outside Primark in Belfast this morning as retail reopens in Northern Ireland and the queue keeps getting bigger.”

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North Belfast minister for infrastructure Nichola Mallon also took to Twitter to state: “We are able to reopen our retail and hospitality businesses today because of the massive effort of the people of Northern Ireland. Thank you. I for one am looking forward to doing a bit of [local shopping] later. Let’s support our local businesses and do so safely.”

Northern Ireland to introduce ‘holiday voucher’ scheme

To help incentivise consumers to return to the high street, economy minister Diane Dodds announced that every adult in Northern Ireland would be eligible for a £100 pre-paid card to spend in shops.

The scheme will be implemented as early as the end of summer and is eligible for anyone over the age of 18. The card will not be able to be used for online shopping.

Dodds said: I am excited to see shoppers back in our high streets, customers once again enjoying outdoor hospitality and the return of holidaymakers to self-contained accommodation,

“I am optimistic because the reopening of our economy is the most important first step towards economic recovery.

“Our High Street Stimulus scheme will provide a timely boost to this recovery – it will provide eligible applicants with a pre-paid card worth £100. This means up to 1.4 million people will spend an extra £140m on our high streets rather than online.”

“This has a multiplier effect which will help bring many more customers back through the doors of local retail, hospitality, and other sectors.”

The Irish government yet to reopen non-essential retail

Though Northern Ireland has reopened non-essential retail, Ireland is yet to reopen, with the country having been on the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions (level five) since December.

However, Irish consumers won’t have to wait long to return to the high street, as the easing of lockdown in Ireland will become relaxed starting on 10 May, with the return of hairdressers and click-and-collect services, followed by non-essential retail reopening on 17 May.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said: “To enable [the reopening], the key factor remains sticking with the strategy – a gradual, responsible reopening with all of us observing the rules and respecting the guidance that remains in place.”