Oct 15, 2020

News | Business | NI: Coronavirus: Ministers to discuss financial support for NI businesses


Jayne McComack

5-6 minutes - Source: CNBC

Belfast pub boarded up in May 2020image copyrightReuters

image captionMany pubs in Northern Ireland only reopened in September when restrictions were eased

Stormont ministers will meet later to discuss what further financial support can be found for NI businesses affected by new coronavirus restrictions.

Hair and beauty salons have to shut and gyms face additional measures too.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the executive had to find ways of getting support to businesses "very quickly".

That scheme opened for applications on Wednesday.

Some businesses will also be able to continue to avail of the UK government's furlough scheme but that runs out at the end of October.

media captionBBC News NI's Jordan Kenny explains Northern Ireland's new Covid-19 restrictions

After that, the Job Support Scheme has been extended, which will allow employees who work for firms forced to close because of restrictions to have two-thirds of their wages paid for by the government.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said the scheme did not go far enough.

"Two-thirds doesn't amount to very much, so we're very much asking the British government to intervene," she said.

"Alongside that what we need to see is a scheme that helps businesses stay afloat during this period."

Sign from trust telling people to think before they enterimage copyrightPA Media

image captionWednesday saw new coronavirus measures announced across Northern Ireland

Conor Murphy said ministers recognised the new raft of restrictions across Northern Ireland, due to last for four weeks, would cause "broad damage" to the economy.

"Footfall is down, retail is struggling and supply chains will be down - so the executive collectively across a range of departments has to find ways and means to get support to businesses very quickly," he added.

The minister suggested further support packages would have to be able to last until the "end of the financial year".

The executive must ensure it has enough resources to account for any further interventions that may be required to curb the spread of the virus, he added.

Mr Murphy also said he wanted to hear proposals from other Stormont departments about providing assistance to those people who do not currently qualify for any other financial assistance.

Wednesday saw new measures announced for all of Northern Ireland, with schools closing for two weeks from Monday.

The executive has promised updated guidance explaining the rules will be posted on the government's NI Direct website.

Roger Pollen, from the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, said urgent clarification was needed on the new restrictions.

"We're calling on politicians to come out today with very clear guidance and let people know where they stand because what we are seeing is businesses in the supply chain now having to get rid of food they had lined up for hotels and restaurants and that's such a heart-rending situation," he told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

The Crownimage copyrightReuters

image captionFrom Friday evening, hospitality firms will only be allowed to offer takeaway and delivery services for four weeks

At Thursday's executive meeting, ministers are also likely to look again at the effect of other coronavirus measures already in place.

Derry restrictions 'effective'

Northern Ireland's chief scientific advisor, Prof Ian Young, said there are "signs of slowing of the increase" of the virus in Derry and Strabane.

He said cases had been "doubling every three days", but the doubling time is now "much longer", suggesting that "restrictions are being effective".

"Stopping the transmission of the virus is a bit like turning around an ocean liner," he added.

Prof Young said a number of "super spreader events" could have led to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the north-west.

"Somebody who was particularly infectious who was in contact with a number of people and spread the virus to them, but currently we don't know where those events happened," he said.

"Also, widespread community transmission and a lot of clusters also occurring in household settings."

On Wednesday, the Department of Health recorded a further 1,217 cases and four more deaths with Covid-19.

There have now been 23,115 cases since the pandemic began - a quarter of which have been reported in the past week.

In the Republic of Ireland, a further 1,095 new coronavirus cases were confirmed, as well as five additional deaths.

The Irish government has announced a near-total ban on household visits, and three of the border counties have been moved to the second highest level of restrictions.

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