Northern Ireland’s economy minister has called for the publication of dates for the reopening of all businesses following the latest lockdown.
Some schoolchildren and some outdoor activities such as golf have returned in the region but non-essential retailers and services remain closed.
The Executive published its Pathway Out Of Restrictions blueprint last month but it did not include any dates.
On Wednesday, Diane Dodds said she has submitted papers with reopening dates to the Executive.
“I would like to see the Executive publish a timeline of dates,” she told Cool FM.
“I think it is time to give businesses clarity and certainty to help them to plan, to order in stock, to do all the kinds of things that they need to do to bring staff back off furlough.
“The papers I have sent in to the Executive give outline timeframes.
“It is for the Executive, given health advice, to choose that particular pathway but I think it is time that we looked at the negative impacts of lockdown on the economy, the negative impacts on mental health, the negative impacts on those people who are on low pay and currently on furlough on 80% of that pay.
“The cost of lockdown is enormous for the economy, our claimant count has doubled in the last year, we need to get ahead with reopening so we can avoid further damage, start to grow the economy again and rebuild our economy.”
First Minister Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland needs to “move out of where we are at present and into a risk assessed place”.
“We need to rebuild and recover in a very fast way,” she told an In Conversation online event with Institute of Economic Affairs director general Mark Littlewood.
“Yes, we can do things differently, we’ve learned from people working from home, working remotely and that is something we now know can happen. Let’s use that information to build back stronger and build back in a way which us sustainable for the 21st century.”
Mrs Foster also spoke of her fears about the “other harms” of the pandemic.
“I fear that we will have a mental health epidemic when we come out of this, I don’t say that lightly, it’s something that we’ve been trying to plan for in terms of services,” she said.
Mrs Dodds’ comments were welcomed by Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton.
“Businesses that have been closed now since Boxing Day desperately need to reopen but they also need sufficient notice so that they can buy in stock and bring staff back from furlough and dates will give them some certainty to plan ahead,” he said.
“Hopefully, the other parties in the Executive support the minister’s proposals and agree to reopen shops, close contact services and the hospitality, leisure and tourism sector and give us the best possible chance of averting a serious jobs crisis.”
No further deaths of people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were reported by the Department of Health on Wednesday.
Another 88 confirmed cases were recorded in the last 24-hour reporting period.
Meanwhile on Wednesday morning, there were 97 confirmed Covid-positive inpatients in hospital, of whom 12 were in intensive care