Donaldson: Covid funding ‘enough to last for two or three weeks of restrictions’

·3-min read
People queuing at the Covid19 vaccination centre at Dundonald Hospital in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
People queuing at the Covid19 vaccination centre at Dundonald Hospital in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Northern Ireland has enough Covid funding to last for “two or three weeks of restrictions”, the DUP leader has said.

Extra funding to contend with the Omicron surge in cases was announced for all UK regions on Sunday.

The Treasury has said Northern Ireland is to receive £75 million, on top of another £75 million announced last week.

The Department of Finance said last week’s announcement was mostly not new money and already featured in Stormont’s spending plans

We are somewhat behind England in terms of the spread of the Omicron variant, but there is no doubt that the spread of this infection is going to rise significantly

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

The Executive is set to meet on Wednesday to discuss further restrictions as the number of daily coronavirus cases continues to increase.

At the weekend, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill warned that Omicron will hit Northern Ireland “like a tonne of bricks”, with up to 30,000 new cases a day in the “worst-case scenario”,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged the reintroduction of the furlough scheme.

“The Government has committed to double the amount that we have available in terms of supporting our efforts to deal with the Omicron variant,” he told the BBC.

“But even at that, that just leaves us with £150 million and, during the last lockdown, on top of the furloughing scheme, the cost to support the economy and deal with the pandemic was running at somewhere in excess of £200 million a month.

“So, at the moment, in terms of what we have to deal with Omicron, we have got enough to deal with about two or three weeks.”

“If we are moving towards more restrictive measures, then obviously we can’t consider that in a vacuum.

Belfast during an earlier period of lockdown (PA) (PA Archive)
Belfast during an earlier period of lockdown (PA) (PA Archive)

“We have been saying to the Government at Westminster, if we are getting into a situation where people are not going to be able to be at work because of the pandemic, then clearly we can’t have a situation where people’s family finances are undermined, where they are unable to provide for their loved ones.

“We will need a furloughing scheme in those circumstances.

“We don’t know yet if that is the situation we are now heading into.”

Sir Jeffrey emphasised that the Stormont Executive needs to consider the economy when deciding on any new restrictions.

“Obviously we are very concerned about the current situation. I have been speaking to the First Minister (Paul Givan) on a daily basis, we have been keeping in touch with the Government at Westminster,” he said.

“We are endeavouring to co-ordinate our response here in line with what the UK Government is doing in England.

“We are somewhat behind England in terms of the spread of the Omicron variant, but there is no doubt that the spread of this infection is going to rise significantly.

“The Executive will meet on Wednesday to decide on further measures, and at the moment we are in discussions with the Department of Health and the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser about what further restrictions might look like.

“Obviously when considering something as serious as lockdown it is not just a question of what are the measures we need to take to protect the population, but also what impact does that have on the economy if we have lockdown.”

Meanwhile, the booster vaccine programme has opened to all over-18s who received their second dose at least three months ago.

The death of one further patient who previously tested positive for Covid-19 and another 2,148 cases of the virus were also notified by the department of health on Monday.

On Monday morning, there were 276 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 34 were in intensive care.

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