Workers who lose their job during the coronavirus economic crisis could be drafted into roles to help support Northern Ireland's struggling health service, it has emerged.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has revealed it is one of a number of measures being considered by the Northern Ireland Executive as it battles to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the NHS and the economy here.
Addressing her Assembly colleagues yesterday, the DUP MLA described the current situation as an "economic crisis" and outlined the grim reality of the pandemic on the economy just weeks after Covid-19 arrived in Northern Ireland.
"I am fighting to mitigate against the worst effects of this crisis on the economy, on small businesses and particularly on our tourism sector," she said.
"It looks more and more likely that the modest growth projected for this year will be wiped out, if not worse.
"What is clear is that businesses in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries will be hit first and they're being hit hard with an alarming drop in all sorts of economic activity.
"Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality sector employs 65,000 people and generates £1bn per annum and the coronavirus outbreak comes at the end of the quietest period in the tourism calendar."
Ms Dodds said hotels are already reporting a significant drop in occupancy levels. "Forward bookings on booking.com are down by 80%, Titanic Belfast has experienced a 50% drop in visitor numbers, industry estimates about 3,000 tourism businesses that may not survive in the long-term without immediate help, footfall is down 6% in Belfast city centre," she continued.
"The Executive needs to work to help businesses and our people through this crisis and ensure we safeguard employment."
Ms Dodds stopped short of providing details of the measures being considered, but revealed plans to re-divert laid-off staff into efforts to support and assist the community in the coming months.
"I think it is something that my department will quickly look at, if we are in the position where firms have to close," she said. "Many people will have skills in food preparation that we may need in our hospitals and so on as this thing reaches a peak, so we will be looking at this and how, if one business closes, there are opportunities in other areas."