Another Covid-19 lockdown would be “devastating” for businesses in Northern Ireland, the economy minister has said.
Diane Dodds said the pandemic was both a “health crisis and economic crisis”.
It comes after the Department for the Economy’s top civil servant outlined the level of the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Mike Brennan warned the full impact of the crisis has not yet begun.
He said almost 330,000 workers in Northern Ireland are currently receiving some sort of income support from London and once those schemes come to an end, we could see unemployment hit 100,000 by the end of the year.
Mrs Dodds told BBC News NI’s Good Morning Ulster that “you cannot shut the economy down and expect it to be reassembled in exactly the same way with exactly the same levels of output”.
‘Not all doom and gloom’
“Many economists indicated we will lose about 10% of output in economy – 3% is akin to recession, so this indicates a fairly deep recession the economy is facing,” she added.
“I have never sugar-coated this situation – just as we need to look after our health, we need to look after our economic health.
“We have had enormous interventions in the economy – both at local and central government.
“Have they been perfect? No – but they have been unprecedented interventions in the economy.”
She added: “We need to face the fact there will be difficult days ahead.”
However Mrs Dodds said the current situation is “not all doom and gloom”, adding that some sectors have reopened successfully and that can be continued if the public sticks to the health guidelines.
“We need to be careful of each other and be absolutely sure the basics are right, and then we will be able to keep opening up the economy,” she said.
Mrs Dodds added that recovery in sectors such as tourism, hospitality and aerospace will be longer and those will “need a longer tail of support than others who have been opened throughout and are in recovery” already.
The director of Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, Gareth Hetherington, told Good Morning Ulster the situation was “stark”.
He described the suggested figure of 100,000 people unemployed by the end of this year as a “conservative estimate”.
He said the talk of a rebound in the retail sector could lead to the risk of a “false sense of security”.
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“The 100,000 is not a worst-case scenario,” he said.
Mr Hetherington added that a lot of the recovery has been supported by significant government initiatives like the furlough scheme and that “isn’t a sound basis on which to make a determination of the strength of economic recovery moving forward”.
He also said another Northern Ireland-wide lockdown would be “catastrophic” and that could be avoided by using the ‘test, track and trace’ system to implement localised restrictions instead.
An indicative date of 1 September had been set but an increase in coronavirus cases means the Northern Ireland Executive has put that on hold.
Colin Neill, from Hospitality Ulster, told Good Morning Ulster the development was “catastrophic news” for the industry.
He called on the executive to announce immediate financial support for publicans or “thousands of jobs will be lost along with a vital part of the hospitality sector here.”
Kieran Griffiths, from Londonderry’s Playhouse Theatre, said the pandemic had been “an awfully sad time” for NI’s arts sector.