Dodds: NI economy 'cannot afford another lockdown'

Returning to lockdown to combat the spiralling coronavirus infection rate would destroy businesses, Northern Ireland's economy minister has said.

Returning to lockdown to combat the spiralling coronavirus infection rate would destroy businesses, Northern Ireland's economy minister has said.

Diane Dodds said fresh, draconian measures would compound the challenges facing firms, costing jobs and impacting families.

She added: "The Northern Ireland economy cannot afford another lockdown. Those small shoots of recovery we are seeing would be destroyed."

Pubs that do not serve food are allowed to reopen from Wednesday, having been shut since March.

The minister, addressing her scrutiny committee at Stormont, said: "Even the fear alone of another lockdown would remove any lingering hopes businesses have of economic recovery.

"This is costing jobs and impacting on families."

Ms Dodds said she was pushing for more support for small businesses and the manufacturing sector.

She added that has informed her ministerial colleagues about the gaps that exist.

"None of this is easy," she said. "Very difficult decisions will have to be taken.

"These are tough times, probably the toughest times many of our business owners have ever faced."

She added: "It does rest heavily on our minds that the Northern Ireland economy is in a perilous situation at this particular time and it has greatly impacted on prospects and livelihoods of individuals and families."

She said online sales worth 30-35% of turnover had helped some firms on the high streets survive.

She said: "Tourism has had a pretty torrid time.

"The summer, for some elements, was a reasonable summer.

"The autumn and winter for hotels and hospitality without big conferences and larger events will again become a crucial and critical time."

The Economy Minister said her message about the impact of restrictions on business was in step with the public views of Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill.

"They are cognisant of the fact that restrictions and lockdowns would be devastating for everybody.

"I am doing my job of warning that we are in very difficult and serious circumstances.

"I am simply doing my job and saying that the difficulties for businesses, if there were a total lockdown, would be absolutely enormous."

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O'Dowd challenged her about her comments during the Economy Committee meeting at Stormont.

He asked why businesses were not enforcing the rules around wearing face coverings.

He drew a parallel with other anti-social habits, adding that if someone was smoking they would be asked to put the cigarette out.