The economic impact of Northern Ireland's lockdown restrictions will cost the equivalent of 16,000 lives here, an expert has warned.
Professor Philip Thomas, from the University of Bristol, has calculated that our population of nearly 1.9m will lose a total of 668,000 years of life due to a drop in GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
The prolonged impact of the restrictions on health due to a poorer economy will mean that each individual in Northern Ireland will have their life shortened on average by just over four months.
DUP MP Ian Paisley yesterday described the grim forecast as "truly devastating", insisting the Executive should not ignore the figures because it is not on "message" with current policy.
The Department of Health has acknowledged that the pandemic is having an impact on people's lives but stressed the Executive will not keep the restrictions in place "any longer than necessary".
According to Professor Thomas, who specialises in risk management, the UK as a whole will lose the equivalent of 560,000 lives on the decline of around 9% UK GDP - the current rate.
He published his study last November before the UK's first Covid vaccine was approved - although the figures for Northern Ireland were presented directly to this newspaper this week.
The expert yesterday welcomed the Covid jab roll-outs, but stressed the economic costs of lockdowns will be long term, and as such the report's findings remain valid.
He made the calculation by first calculating the total number of years likely to be lost by Northern Ireland overall - 668,000 years, and then dividing that figure by 42 - which is the remaining life expectancy on average of an individual here.
"Some people [in Northern Ireland] would lose a small amount of life, some much more. But on average 0.35 years or just over four months," he explained.
Professor Thomas added: "The main point to note is that lockdowns bring a penalty in terms of human life, not only in poor countries but in wealthy countries like the UK too.
"The benefits of locking down in terms of reduced transmission of the coronavirus have to be balanced against the significant cost in human life of doing so."
Mr Paisley told the Belfast Telegraph our decision-makers have a "duty" to take into consideration the figures.
"People talk about the long-term consequences of Covid, this is the long-term consequences of lockdown... No one who does lockdown does it for the wrong reason - but this shows the consequences of it."
The North Antrim MP also questioned whether our health authorities are factoring in cost-benefit analysis in determining their decisions.
"The Executive should consider this and not dismiss it, just because it's not quote-unquote 'on their message'. They have a duty to consider it and consider it carefully."
A health spokesperson said the direct and indirect impact is being taken into account by the Executive, adding the majority of people here are "doing the right thing in terms of complying with the lockdown" to "save lives" and protect our health service.