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Northern Ireland needs to learn to co-exist with coronavirus, says business chief Stephen Kelly


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Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI

A manufacturing leader has said it is time for Northern Ireland to co-exist with coronavirus rather than face consecutive lockdown extensions.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "We've got to be trained how to live with it for a considerable amount of time, rather than sit tight and hold still."

Mr Kelly was speaking after Stormont's decision on Thursday to extend lockdown by a further three weeks.

He believes with the right advice and training, the public and workplaces can function alongside coronavirus safely and said good practice from the manufacturing sector could be used as a benchmark.

He said: "The evidence is clear that the measures taken already have given the community the shock that is required to get us to radically alter our behaviour but it's also clear coronavirus won't disappear from our lives, for a considerable time, even if they do find a vaccine we will have to wait until enough people are vaccinated.

"In the meantime we can't sit and wait it out.

Already we can see that people are becoming more relaxed so let's educate them in a way that prepares us to live along side this virus. I think we are at that time Stephen Kelly

"If you look at work places in manufacturing, those environments are controlled and a huge focus is placed on hygiene and it works and evidence proves that.

"What we need to do now is inform the public the way we do in manufacturing workplaces. We can take that example out into the community. It's about training and engaging and we need to talk and train the community, let them know what works and what will keep them safe.

"Already we can see that people are becoming more relaxed so let's educate them in a way that prepares us to live along side this virus. I think we are at that time."

Mr Kelly said around 50% of the local manufacturing workforce was back at work after firms put stringent social distancing, staggered shifts, strict hygiene regulations and more measures in place.

He said on Monday more manufacturers would return to work in "barely recognisable" workplaces following significant investment in social distancing. "They've invested a huge amount of time in risk assessments and it's all been done with the best advice from the right authorities and it's supported by unions."

Gareth Latimer, a director at business advisory firm Grant Thornton, said recently that an extension to the lockdown would produce an increase in job losses and personal and corporate insolvencies.

He said: "Obviously, if the economy suffers a deep recession, there will be more corporate failures. If unemployment rises as expected, there will be more personal insolvencies.

"The outlook is not positive…" Mr Latimer's warning came before the CBI said the UK economy had suffered a "momentous downturn" in the first quarter of the year, with a 25% fall in private sector activity - the steepest decline in 11 years.

Economic development agency Invest NI said 29 of its client companies had made redundancies and 500 had furloughed a total of 30,000 staff.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the economy suffered a loss of approximately £1.3bn for each month of lockdown.

The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) director general Dr Adam Marshall said businesses now need clear information on how to resume operations. He was speaking after a survey by BCC showed that almost a third of businesses would require notice to reopen.

He said: "Over the coming days, business communities will require clear forward guidance from government on plans to reopen parts of the economy, transport networks, schools and local services.

"Our results show that businesses' ability to restart quickly varies by company size, and by sector. For these reasons and more, it will be crucial for the government to maintain and evolve support for businesses, to give as many firms as possible the chance to navigate a phased return to work.

"The communication of plans for the easing of restrictions must begin immediately."

Belfast Telegraph