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Coronavirus will have huge impact on Northern Ireland economy for a number of generations, official warns

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Coronavirus will have huge impact on Northern Ireland economy

Coronavirus will have huge impact on Northern Ireland economy

PA

Coronavirus will have huge impact on Northern Ireland economy

The financial impact of the spread of Covid-19 is likely to be felt in Northern Ireland for generations to come, a senior official from the Department for the Economy (DfE) has warned.

Shane Murphy, DfE's chief economist, said there are difficult decisions ahead for the Northern Ireland Executive as they attempt to put in place strategies to shore up the economy here in the coming weeks and months.

And he also warned there may be shortages of some products as isolation measures to slow down the spread of coronavirus, save lives and reduce the pressure on the health service ramp up.

A raft of businesses have already shut their doors, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, and the situation is likely to deteriorate further after the announcement that all schools in Northern Ireland will close from Monday.

The move, which had been resisted by the government until yesterday, is likely to restrict tens of thousands of parents across Northern Ireland from going to work.

Concerns had been raised that operations at many firms could grind to a halt as a result of the measure.

Speaking ahead of the crunch announcement, considered one of the last-ditch efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, Mr Murphy told Stormont's economy committee yesterday morning that the economic impact of coronavirus in Northern Ireland will be significant and long-lasting.

"We recognise this is a public health issue first and foremost," he said.

"It's an emergency, it's going to have impacts for all sorts of aspects of our lives including economically, and it looks like we're heading for a big, but hopefully temporary, shock to the economy.

"The disruption to economic life is going to be highly significant.

"It's looking hugely likely that growth forecast pre-coronavirus for the year will probably be wiped out.

"How long it lasts is going to depend on the pathway of the public health crisis and how long things last for."

While he said he cannot project exactly how long the economy will suffer as a result of the pandemic, he later referred to the fact that the UK has only recently paid off the bills accrued as a result of the two world wars.

"I think there is every expectation on my part that the bill will be enormous and we will be paying for it for years," he said.

The DfE official also said the Executive is now faced with the decision of whether to try and fund the financial support for businesses entirely from the money that has been made available by Westminster, or whether they borrow additional funds.

His colleague, Keith Forster, who is director of strategic policy at DfE, was also present at the briefing and said it is vital that Stormont moves quickly to put in place financial aid for businesses affected by the Covid-19 virus.

"Actions need to be taken in our view as a matter of urgency," he said.

"I understand the impact this is going to have on the economy is huge, there nothing like this in recent times.

"We are trying to identify any gaps where some of the policies announced in England translate locally here."

Commenting on potential food supply disruptions, Mr Murphy offered reassurance that he was not aware of any current issues.

"I have no reason to believe or any evidence of concerns on the food side," he said.

However, he stressed that the situation may change in the coming weeks and months.

"I can't guarantee there will not be some products affected," he said.

Shops across Northern Ireland have struggled to keep shelves stocked with a range of products in recent weeks.

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