That stark warning came after the first and deputy first ministers announced a further easing of the coronavirus lockdown yesterday.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, speaking as people across Ulster took full advantage of the more relaxed rules put in place earlier this month by flocking to beaches and parks amid blistering sunshine, said the next steps to ease the lockdown will begin on June 8.

They announced new arrangements for retailers, hotels and weddings will be put in place unless the virus begins spreading more quickly.

But the new measures were met with a degree of confusion and disappointment from industry bodies including the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Ireland Hoteliers Federation and Hospitality Ulster.

The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, told the News Letter he would have liked to have seen the latest relaxation of the rules go much further.

“Without a date to open, we’re days away from starting to lay off tens of thousands,” he said.

“We have a 90-day redundancy period so if we don’t have a date coming (for reopening), we’re going to have start putting people on notice.”

The first and deputy first ministers said hotels will soon be allowed to take bookings – but no date for reopening was given.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Clancy described that announcement as “contradictory”, while the Northern Ireland Hoteliers Federation said it “only adds to the confusion”.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Hamilton welcomed the move to allow some retailers to open but said “urgent clarification” is needed on the new rules.

The Executive Office at Stormont said shops with “direct street access or direct access within a retail park” will be allowed to open, as will “non-food retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits” and those with “a greater propensity for larger store areas”.

Responding, Mr Hamilton said: “This is good news for the retailers who will now be able to open from June 8.

“It is frustrating though for those who will have to wait a little longer.”

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