Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill: Having health service which can cope is key to economy recovering

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
Michelle O'Neill MLA, Deputy First Minister

WE need an honest conversation around how we, as a society, tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

We are dealing with an unprecedented health crisis. But it is also affecting us at an individual, societal and economic level.

It is concerning that the discussion is being increasingly pitched through a health versus economy narrative when that is clearly not the case.

Having a healthy people and a health service which can cope is key to our economy reopening and recovering.

The impact of the pandemic on our economy has been devastating.

There is no easy way through this as the figures which came out last Thursday (October 8) show. Our economic output has fallen to an all-time low.

Our economy is also radically changing. How people do business and use our towns/cities for work, socialising and living is radically changing. This needs to feature in any economic response. This is not unique to us, it's happening worldwide.

We need to look at other opportunities for growth and enabling existing businesses to adapt to changing circumstances. We need to support businesses now but we also need to prepare for new social and economic circumstances.

Our rapidly rising transmission rates of coronavirus has put us amongst the worst affected areas, not just in Europe, but in the world. This is a situation that we must get to grips with immediately.

The CMO and the CSA have spelt out very starkly what will happen if there is not an intervention; there will be a rapid rise in cases with increased hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths. The trajectory of the figures are already moving in that direction.

Any delay in taking decisive action will increase transmission rates and potentially overwhelm our health service and leave it unable to cope with both Covid and non-Covid cases.

The only way we can get control is to break and lessen social contact – in our homes, in our leisure and social activities and in our workplaces.

This will impact on our economy, particularly our hospitality, retail and service sectors. It will have negative consequences on people, for their mental health and for their finances.

If we are asking people to close their businesses or reduce their footfall and profit margins then they need practical support to do this.

Workers also need practical support to help them and their families manage and survive financially, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

The pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings of our limited fiscal powers. We don't have the fiscal powers to fund this ourselves. We will simply be taking money away from already stretched public services.

So while the financial support from Chancellor Rishi Sunak is welcome, we also need to ensure that the British government will provide us with enough financial help to get us through the current public health crisis.

Finally, this pandemic will not last forever; it will end. In the meantime people are being asked to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.

You are being asked to protect yourselves and each other. Let us help each other through this.

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