A senior medic has issued a warning to shoppers as people in Northern Ireland prepare to hit the high street this weekend ahead of lockdown.
Friday saw chaotic queues and crowds as the public flocked to stores and retail outlets before they close on November 27.
However Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, urged people to be cautious and not to stay in shops too long.
“We are asking people to do a lot more hard work, and make more sacrifices, and they’re clearly taking that opportunity to get their retail experience in before Christmas because they’re concerned they might not get it again,” he said.
“If they keep their social distance, if they wash their hands, if they keep good mask cover, then that will protect them to a significant degree.
“It’s also worth ensuring that you’re not in a shop for more than 15 minutes, and if you can go to an area which is well ventilated when you’re inside.
“So there’s a balance to be found, as in everything, but it’s difficult for people.”
Health Minister Robin Swann on Friday night also appealed directly to businesses and customers.
He said: “I urge customers and businesses to take every precaution against spreading the virus, not least through social distancing. Don’t put yourself, your loved ones, other customers or staff members at risk. I really want to emphasise that point.”
Meanwhile, a leading economist has warned that Northern Ireland is heading towards a loss of up to £6.9bn because of the pandemic.
Dr Esmond Birnie said the restrictions over the forthcoming fortnight alone will result in a drop of between £300m and £450m in the region’s economic output.
Add to that the losses incurred during the full lockdown from March to June, followed by the last four weeks of the circuit-breaker, and the Northern Ireland economy will have suffered a total slump of between £5.9 and £6.9bn in 2020 compared to 2019, he said.
“The gigantic losses are probably worse than those in any other recession/depression during the last 100 years,” added Dr Birnie.
His comments come as a popular Belfast tailor said he was starting an online shop on November 30 in a bid to save his business.
Chris Suitor, owner of the Suitor Brothers shop, described the situation as “a shambles”.
“It’s not government — it’s misgovernment,” Mr Suitor said.
“They’re sending out mixed messages. They’re forcing people into a spending spree for a week.
“That’s likely to increase the ‘R’ number and then they’ll be forced to extend the lockdown. What hope do we have?”
Dr Birnie said the local economy is likely to experience an annual downturn of up to 14%.
“Given we have already had two periods of restrictions, it is unfortunately quite likely that the total size of the Northern Ireland economy in 2020 will be about 12-14% down on last year’s 2019 figure — in other words, a loss of about £5,900m to £6,900m,” he said.
The Ulster University senior economist said calculation included the ‘full lockdown’ from March to June, as well as the partial restrictions over the last four weeks.
But he said he also factored in “the impact back on the Northern Ireland economy on what are if anything even more intense restrictions in our two biggest business markets”, namely Great Britain and the Republic.
He stressed, however, that “all of the economic harm cannot be blamed on government restrictions or lockdowns” because consumer spend would have changed “even without government regulations” as a result of “such a big public health emergency”.
Paul Clancy, chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said the latest restrictions will be a serious blow to those businesses in the north west that have already been closed for seven weeks.
Mr Swann also said he understood the frustration from the business community, but that his “priority right now has to be protecting health and social care”.