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Discussions on rebuilding Northern Ireland economy post-coronavirus to begin next week

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First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

PA

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Work on a plan to rebuild Northern Ireland’s economy after Covid-19 is set to begin next week.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said they would meet the head of the civil service to discuss a recovery plan.

Speaking at the daily Executive briefing on Friday, it was also confirmed that a Nightingale hospital at the Maze would not be needed during the first wave of the pandemic.

A further 18 deaths in Northern Ireland were announced for the second day in a row, bringing the current total to 176.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) also revealed that by April 10, 157 people had died which is 39 more than previously reported by the Public Health Agency.

In the UK, the death toll stands at 14,576 while 486 have died in the Irish Republic.

Mrs Foster thanked the vast majority of the public for adhering to social distancing measures.

“This really is a matter of life and death. It is also important to remember that these restrictions are only temporary, we will return to something resembling normality and school corridors will eventually bustle again and restaurants, bars, sports grounds, concert halls and theaters will entertain once more.”

On rebuilding the economy, Mrs Foster promised the Executive would work with businesses facing "incredible pressure" on issues like rates bills.

She noted that other regions across the UK were freezing business rates for 12 months, and said the Executive would be considering the matter next week.

With no vaccine yet available and a second wave of coronavirus expected, Mrs Foster said the Executive would be guided by other countries as they eventually relax restrictions.

“Let us not become complacent, please stay at home as much as possible and please help our health workers to weather this storm.”

Ms O’Neill said it was “a time of great anxiety” but that the Executive was working tirelessly to keep the public safe.

She said progress had been made to ensure adequate supplies of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) were available for care workers and said work was ongoing to rectify any gaps.

“We are not out of the woods. We are still in the middle of our surge and we are still on a knife edge.”

Ms O’Neill agreed the Executive also needed a strategic conversation on building the economy.

Asked if extra help from the army had been used, Mrs Foster said: “We don’t know how long (the current) peak will last....I’m not sure if military assistance is here at the present time because of course it’s an operational matter for the health minister so that’s something he would be able to bring clarity on."

Ms O'Neill repeated that she would not oppose accepting help from the army if needed.

"Whatever measure is necessary then that’s what we need to do," she said.

"I had raised some issues around how the issue of the army helping out was communicated to the Executive.

“I’m on record and have discussed that with the health minister. I think that the criteria is clear in terms of the use of the military if we did need them (if we have) exhausted our own local capability.

“I welcome the fact that we are in the position we are in that it looks like our hospitals will be able to cope.

“That does not mean it’s an easy picture, it’s far from it."

With the current hospital capacity "fit for purpose" in Northern Ireland, both leaders agreed a nightingale hospital was not needed at present but could be used in the event of a second wave of the virus.

Belfast Telegraph