Businesses and public services must prepare for ‘new normal’

Businesses and public services in Northern Ireland must prepare for working in a “new normal” once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the First Minister has said.

Arlene Foster said the epidemic will have long-term implications for how the private sector and the state operates, as she urged decision-makers to start thinking about how to adapt to the realities of social distancing.

Mrs Foster outlined how the working world may have to function, as the deaths of a further nine people who tested positive for Covid-19 were confirmed in the region.

“All of us need to think about what society may look like when restrictions are gradually lifted and how it will function,” she said.

“The global economy has taken a huge hit as a result of Covid-19, a hit that will have long-term implications for the way the public and private sectors operate for years to come.

“But we must all face the reality that when the initial threat recedes and the first wave of this pandemic is over it will not be business as usual.

“Everyone in a position of responsibility in the public and private sector needs to prepare for a new normal, by asking questions such as can I facilitate remote working among my employees?

“Are there technological solutions we have introduced to the way we do business during the crisis that are working, and could continue once the initial Covid-19 threat recedes?

“And are there creative ways to keep production lines going, whilst guaranteeing the safety of our workers?

“Can shift patterns be altered over the course of a week to meet the safety needs of employers and also the demands of our customers?

“Those are questions we’re all going to have to wrestle with over the next coming months.”

New confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK
New confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK

Mrs Foster said that while planning for the recovery needed to begin, it was important that the public focus did not move away from the current public health response.

“We are not out of the woods, nor would we seek to make a dash for the exit,” she told the daily Covid-19 briefing at Stormont.

“To do so would be foolish and to risk a second wave, which would undo all of the good work which we have collectively been involved in over this last few weeks.

“And while it is sensible for the public and private sector to be considering how we reboot, we must not lose sight of our primary focus – to flatten the curve of this epidemic and to follow the public health advice.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the fact the projected worst case scenario death toll for the first 20 weeks of the outbreak had fallen from 15,000 to 1,500 was down to the public’s adherence to the rules.

A further nine people in Northern Ireland have sadly passed away as a result of COVID-19.

More information will follow.

— Department of Health (@healthdpt) April 21, 2020

“These are tough times for everyone,” she added.

“I know that there are people right across our society who are finding it particularly difficult.

“Please remember that this won’t last forever.

“We should all look forward to a time when we can come back together with our families, with our friends, to live our lives, to visit each other and to celebrate as we choose.

“And that time will come. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, we must not forget that Covid-19 is still here. To do so would be catastrophic for our people.

“Even though we can’t see it, Covid-19 is still present in our communities, it’s still spreading and it’s still killing people.

“We cannot allow complacency to creep in. It’s as important now as it was last week or last month that we keep following the public health advice.

“We all have to collectively shoulder the burden in the fight back against this virus.

“We’re all in this together and we all have to get through it together.”