Economy Minister Diane Dodds has predicted that the majority of around 200,000 people here on the UK's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will ultimately return to work.
The minister said an estimated 200,000 local workers were on the JRS, also known as furlough, though no definite figures are available from HMRC, which runs the scheme.
It enables people to stay in employment even though there is no work for them to do, with the Government paying 80% of their wages.
With around 571,540 private sector jobs, according to the latest employment survey from March, just under 35%, or one in three, workers are on furlough. More workers in private sector jobs are also being supported through the Government's self-employed income support scheme.
A further 26,500 people were also claiming unemployment benefit for the first time in April, while there are fears that large numbers of furloughed workers will be made redundant when the scheme runs out in October.
But in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the minister would not estimate how many are regarded as at risk of losing their jobs: "I think that would be really sensationalism and wrong," she said.
"Many firms are using it because, one, they were told to shut down, and as we reopen the economy we will gradually get back to a stage where the vast majority of those people will come back into work."
She criticised aspects of the scheme, including the fact that there will be no flexibility to enable workers to come back part-time until August, and that it will eventually require a cash contribution from employers.
"The fact that the Chancellor actually extended the length of the JRS and the fact that he gave it a bit more flexibility after July is good, but I probably would have argued for flexibility sooner ... business is not a homogeneous thing and not everybody moves at the same time."
And she said protecting public health was at the core of the Executive's response to coronavirus and the gradual lifting of the lockdown.
But she denied it was prioritising health over the economy.
"I think it's a wrong characterisation. I don't want anyone to characterise that this is the economy versus health, I think that's wrong. Everyone out there who owns a business has a family and they worry about their family.
"We have to do things that work for health, that are based in the scientific reality of where we are, but that also help us to return the economy to normal because that's important for jobs and families."
Her department is also working on economic recovery papers which are being shared with Executive colleagues, feeding into the roadmap for recovery published last week.
Despite objections from business she said she was in agreement with Executive policy that dates would not be published as part of the five-step plan.
But she acknowledged the concerns of hotels, who fear losing out to competitors in the Republic after they were told they can reopen on July 20. Hotels in England are to reopen on July 4.
"I do not want our industry to be disadvantaged. It's absolutely, massively important that we are able to give them messaging that will help them go forward and I don't want to prejudge what I am going to do," the minister said.
"This has been well aired and for those hotels which are listening, I understand and I'm working on the message."
She would not say if she hoped that step five in the recovery plan - by which time pubs, restaurants and hotels will be reopened - could be reached by the autumn.
She added: "I want NI to come out of this, I want NI to come out of it well, I desperately want to see people kept in jobs, as that's so important for families. But if we are to do it, we must do it in some sort of controlled and coordinated way."
She said she was heartened by an announcement during the week of 65 new jobs at Boston-based cyber security company Cygilant, which is now opening in Belfast, and that the Executive wanted to build jobs in the sector as it focuses on long-term economic recovery.
And she announced a hardship fund of £40m for micro-businesses which have not yet qualified for other grant assistance.
"Does it do everything that we really need it to do, or want it to do, or can we do everything? The honest answer is that we can't, but what I have continuously pledged to do is look at those gaps and continue to work with companies and to continue to see if there is further funding available that we can continue to do that."
Her department confirmed that it had received 761 applications for the hardship fund since it opened on Wednesday.
And 2,321 applications for support from a £25,000 grant for hospitality, tourism, leisure and retail firms had been successful, with £50m being paid out so far.
In total 3,624 applications were received, with applications still under consideration.
And 21,803 payments have been made under the £10,000 Small Business Support Grant Scheme, with a total of £210m paid out under that scheme.