Northern Ireland’s economy minister has said businesses need to be be able to reopen as soon as possible following the latest lockdown.
There have been some minor relaxations of the strict rules which have been in effect in the region since December but most businesses remain closed.
Diane Dodds said a number of sectors in the economy have been “terribly impacted” by the coronavirus pandemic, noting that there is a backlog of 3,000 weddings to take place in the hotel sector.
The Executive is set to meet on Thursday to discuss further relaxations with indications that reopening dates for various sectors may be announced.
Asked in the Assembly on Tuesday whether she is planning any additional support schemes for businesses, Mrs Dodds said the best thing would be for businesses to be able to reopen as soon as possible.
“Whilst grant support has been a lifeline for many businesses, it cannot last indefinitely, the best way to support businesses is to get them operating again,” she told MLAs.
“I am of the view that the safe reopening of businesses should happen as soon as possible.
“They need the ability to plan and that is absolutely hugely important.
“We will of course continue to support and sustain business but reopening is key to making the economy work.
“Many of those businesses, particularly retail, really need to see that date, they need to see that timeline … many of them are just getting in spring stock.”
Asked what reasons were being voiced against the reopening of society, Mrs Dodds responded: “I wouldn’t want to pre-empt any executive discussion or discuss the business of the executive but our community here in Northern Ireland has suffered enormously through Covid … so of course there is a lot of nervousness but we have a tremendous vaccine rollout programme, we have transmission rates that are now very low and we cannot keep people locked down in their homes.”
Mrs Dodds published an economic recovery action plan in February, but warned the recovery will not be completed in one year alone.
Meanwhile there were no further deaths of patients who previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
Another 112 cases of the virus were notified by the Department of Health.
On Tuesday morning, there were 77 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom seven were in intensive care.