Stormont’s Finance Minister has requested an urgent meeting with the Chancellor to establish what support Northern Ireland will be offered if another lockdown is required.
Conor Murphy said he needed Rishi Sunak to confirm details around Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent assurances that financial assistance would be provided if the move was necessary.
Executive ministers met on Monday amid mounting expectation that the administration will seek to impose more stringent restrictions across the region to deal with soaring infection rates.
Ministers did not make any decisions on the introduction of further coronavirus restrictions on Monday but are expected to revisit the issue on Thursday.
There were a further 616 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Northern Ireland on Monday. There were no further fatalities.
Some 3,630 cases have been reported in seven days, bringing the overall total number of cases confirmed in the region to 14,690.
Stricter measures for the Derry City and Strabane council area announced by ministers last week came into effect on Monday.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young have both warned the public to plan for a potential short-term lockdown – a so-called “circuit break”.
Mr Murphy said it was vital financial support was offered to those business and individuals who would be hit by another lockdown.
“Clearly the executive and undoubtedly the Government in Dublin and Government in London are all looking with great concern at the increase in the prevalence of the virus right across these islands and considering advice from medical and scientific advisers as to what additional steps might be necessary,” he told a Stormont press conference.
“Those steps obviously are key to protecting the health of the population, and that’s our first and primary concern, but they also have very serious impacts in terms of the local economy and we clearly want to discuss with London additional financial support for the local economy should we move to more severe restrictions in terms of movement and the ability of people to work.”
He said there was a need to confirm what level of support the UK Government would offer.
“Up until this point it was being made very clear that we have had all the support that we will be getting, but I noticed that the British Prime Minister has in recent days talked about the possibility of further lockdowns and what support might be available during that,” he said.
“So we want to make sure and bottom that out.”
He said First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill were scheduled to have a conversation with Boris Johnson on Monday. Stormont’s leaders were also due to talk to Taoiseach Micheal Martin, he added.
“Obviously for measures to be effective, the more synchronising there is across these islands then the better,” said Mr Murphy.
Mr Murphy said he outlined a range of potential financial supports the executive could offer impacted businesses in the Derry City and Strabane council area during Monday’s meeting.
He later told MLAs that the planned support scheme for the north west was designed to be used across Northern Ireland if necessary.
He told the Assembly it represented speedy action to address the costs faced by businesses.
“It had to be extendable and transferable so the same scheme in the north west would transfer to other council areas where this would arise,” he said.
In terms of what support may be needed across Northern Ireland if a further lockdown is required, Mr Murphy earlier told the media: “The virus is at a very serious place, much more rapid growth than had been anticipated.
“That does require some interventions and so the level of support required will very much depend on the level of restrictions that may be brought in.”