Northern Ireland to reopen locked-down drink stores

  • World
  • Friday, 27 Mar 2020

Empty shelves and bottles of alcohol are seen in a SainsburyÕs store in Belfast as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland's devolved government is set to reopen off-licences, its justice minister said on Friday, putting the region in line with the rest of United Kingdom and coronavirus-related restrictions introduced in the Irish Republic.

Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland told drink stores to close their doors this week, prompting criticism from politicians and operators for putting further pressure on already busy supermarkets - the other places where alcohol is regularly bought.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told all Britons on Monday to stay at home to halt the spread of coronavirus, saying that all but essential shops must shut immediately. Pubs were ordered closed two days earlier.

Ireland, which shares an open land border with British-run Northern Ireland, stepped up its restriction this week but also kept off-licences open. People often cross from Ireland to Northern Ireland to buy cheaper alcohol.

"Off licenses are not listed as essential: however they have been removed from the list of premises ordered to close," Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long said on Twitter, adding that an updated list was likely to be published later on Friday.

(Reporting by Ian Graham; Editing by Padraic Halpin and Frances Kerry)

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