The reduction in the social-distancing measure to one metre could have protected 30,000 jobs in Northern Ireland, research has indicated.
The assertion is made by economists from the University of Ulster, who have been examining the impact of Covid-19 on the region’s workforce.
The research estimated that between 240,000 to 280,000 jobs in Northern Ireland (28pc-33pc of total jobs) were vulnerable as a result of lockdown restrictions, including the two-metre distancing rule. Most were threatened by the drop in demand for goods and services.
The experts said when the social-distancing measure was changed to one metre, the number of jobs considered vulnerable fell by around 30,000 – to a range of between 215,000 to 250,000.
Hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers are having their wages part subsidised by the Government – state support which is due to end in October.
The research found the sectors most vulnerable as a result of the economic shock delivered by Covid-19 are wholesale and retail; accommodation and hospitality; manufacturing; and construction.
Economists and report authors Richard Johnston and Ryan Hogg said policies and programmes aimed at boosting stalled demand would be key to the region’s economic recovery.
“As the healthcare risks reduced, the NI Executive made the decision to reduce social distancing from two-metres to one-metre on the June 29 2020, which helped to mitigate the economic risk by removing circa 30,000 jobs from vulnerability,” they stated.
“Whilst 24pc – 29pc of jobs remain vulnerable, this is a welcome step and the policy decision provided most support to those in part-time roles, those with lower levels of formal qualification and on lower incomes the most.
“However, whilst the reduction in social distancing benefits all Council areas, it is more effective in urban areas and brings with it the risk that the gap between urban and rural areas could widen.
“The balancing of healthcare and economic risks will continue to evolve over time, and potentially until a vaccine is available or until an effective treatment to lessen the severity of the virus is obtained.
“Either way, an effective solution could be some time away and mitigating the economic damage where possible will be essential, especially as initial policy supports unwind.
“The policy focus has moved towards recovery policies and those are focused on supporting a return to economic growth though the relaxation of restrictions and demand boosting policies.
“Allied to that, supporting the most vulnerable through the recession and beyond will require additional capacity and resource. A policy focus on growth coupled with fairness will be supported from many perspectives.”
The coronavirus death toll recorded by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health stood at 556 on Friday. The total is no longer updated on the department’s public facing Covid-19 dashboard over the weekend.
There were 19 new confirmed cases of the virus on Friday, bringing the total recorded on the dashboard to 5,834.