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NI parties unite behind coronavirus lockdown plan and call for businesses to receive all help available

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SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin

SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin

SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin

Politicians here have broadly welcomed the road map for the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown.

However, some shared the frustration of many local businesses who had wanted a more definitive timeline produced.

The Executive published its much-anticipated recovery strategy yesterday on how the lockdown measures will be lifted over the coming months.

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin, deputy chair of Stormont's economy committee, said she was "delighted" a plan had been laid out.

Alliance's John Blair felt that the map was "probably as far as we can go at this stage".

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken insisted that a united political front must be maintained in the months ahead.

Speaking yesterday, Ms McLaughlin said that releasing the road map will offer a huge boost to those suffering from mental health difficulties and elderly people who have been self-isolating on their own.

The Foyle MLA added that while business owners will be disappointed over the lack of timelines, the plan did offer "flexibility and agility".

"If we adhere to the current lockdown rules we may emerge quicker than any definitive calendar timeframe, so I am quite pleased that we have got a map and that we have a way forward," she said.

"I think it will help support people who are trying to do everything they can to adhere to the existing rules and give them an opportunity to be with their loved ones."

Ms McLaughlin described Covid-19 as "unpredictable" and felt that including any specific dates on reopening could have backed the Executive into a corner.

"There's an awful lot of businesses out there who can't see a future for themselves and they're very vulnerable, particularly businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector," she added.

"Of the five-stage process, they are at the very end of that, so there could be a lot of stress within those organisations." South Antrim MLA Mr Blair explained that any implementation of the road map will solely depend on the latest scientific advice available when decisions are made.

"A lot of the outworkings on this will depend on the implementation of the plan and that implementation has to be based on the medical and scientific advice available as the Executive works its way through this," he said.

"I am well aware that some people might have understandably expected more detail on the economy. We have been told that is still to come and we await the detail of that.

"I would stress that any economic plan that comes forward must contain some information regarding an economic stimulus plan which will reflect as an absolute priority that some sectors will emerge from this situation at a different rate than others."

Mr Aiken said his party welcomed the plan and that it set out a "direction of travel" for the region.

He also outlined his appreciation to the Executive for coming together and agreeing to the measures.

"That cohesion needs to continue as we fight back against Covid-19 and look towards reopening our economy," he said.

"Many businesses continue to fight for survival and will need as much detail and support as possible, otherwise they won't survive.

"The huge economic support measures coming from the UK Government are very welcome, but we need to ensure that it is getting to businesses and individuals as quickly as possible."

Strangford Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said the measures provided hope of what the future might look like and backed plans for testing.

"I welcome the fact that there is a comprehensive plan in place for testing and tracing as we move into the next stages and that the Executive has opted not to put dates against each stage, allowing themselves, instead, to be guided by science, the correct course of action," she added.

Belfast Telegraph