DEFIANT DUP minister Edwin Poots says he will continue his fight for businesses and livelihoods this week following restrictions imposed by the Stormont Executive to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
The agriculture minister is unrepentant over comments he made on BBC's Talkback show on Friday when he questioned the appropriateness of a universal lockdown, saying it is "unsustainable" and that his party colleagues in the Executive were in a "minority" opposing it.
"I reject this broad brush approach to close the country down," Mr Poots told the BBC.
Speaking to Sunday Life yesterday, Mr Poots said he was standing by his comments that he had "grave reservations" about new restrictions agreed by the Executive and was concerned about the impact they would have on businesses, jobs, people's health and children's education.
He said he was ready to go "toe-to-toe" with critics this week in the debate over how to tackle the crisis given that livelihoods were on the line.
Mr Poots pointed to Department of Health statistics which show the vast majority of Northern Ireland deaths linked to Covid-19 occurred among the over-80 and over-60 age groups.
The statistics show two deaths in the 20 to 39 age group and 24 deaths among 40- to 59-year-olds. Over-80s account for 394 deaths while 187 people between 60 to 79 have died with coronavirus.
Mr Poots said: "We have to be smart in the fight against coronavirus, protecting the most vulnerable while not actually closing the country down. We need to protect as many people as possible.
"We know a lot more about Covid now than we did back in March, we know who it largely affects, people who are vulnerable and the elderly."
He said school children and the majority of those of workforce age - those without underlying conditions - were not at risk.
The closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes and hairdressing salons was a "cruel blow" to low paid workers in those sectors in the run-up to Christmas, he added.
Mr Poots said he was very concerned on the impact on people's health if they were thrown on the dole.
The DUP minister also rejected claims he had sectarianised the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Poots had told Talkback the difference in coronavirus cases "between nationalist areas and unionist areas is around six to one". He said: "It has risen in some council areas at a significantly greater rate than others, Mid and East Antrim is one-tenth of that of Derry City and Strabane," the minister said.
Sinn Fein branded his remarks as an "absolute disgrace". But Mr Poots told Sunday Life: "What I said was factual."
He repeated his claim that there was a link between those figures and the attendance of leading Sinn Fein figures including Michelle O'Neill at Bobby Storey's funeral in July.
"It was the example that set, their attendance gave people the notion they didn't have to observe the rules," he said.
Mr Poots dismissed claims he had been on a solo run in publicly expressing his concerns over the restrictions, saying his views reflected views expressed by DUP Executive colleagues over the impact they would have on the economy and children's education.
He said teenagers were more in danger of contracting the virus while socialising at weekends than they were in the controlled school environment.