LISTEN: Calls for Executive to publish dates for reopening businesses

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By Rebecca Black, PA

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.

The move has been 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.”

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.

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

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