48. Weekly Newsletter

Northern Ireland Economy

The smallest country within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland (NI), represents just 1.9m people in an area around 3% the size of Sweden: however, NI has almost fully recovered economically from the effects of COVID. Output in Q3 of 2021 is just 0.3% below the same period in 2019 according to ONS data. Comparatively, the West Midlands is down 10% for the same period (partly due to manufacturing being halted by COVID and car demand declining); whereas, on the other end of the scale: London is just 1.8% below (due to the dominant services industry which allows for home-working).

Data on the NI labour market reveals that the country now has the highest number ever of people on company payrolls. It is also worth noting that the nation’s unemployment has now been below pre-COVID levels for five consecutive months. Northern Ireland is additionally the only region in the UK with growing imports for the first half of 2021. However, one explanation for this successful economic period may be due to the large public sector that has helped maintain a buoyant labour market.

Omicron Variant & COVID

A new COVID variant, named Omicron, that has been derived from Botswana has caught widespread media attention in the UK. Details of Omicron were published by the WHO on 24 November but have now been identified in countries such as Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. The cause for concern originates from the “almost certainly” less effective protection against the variant by the vaccine. Ten countries (all located in the South of Africa) have now been added to the UK’s travel ‘red list’ which resulted in airlines racing to evacuate travellers home safely.

Over 10.1m people in the UK have tested positive for COVID over the course of the pandemic and cases are now on the rise to around 36,000 people testing positive per day. A total of 144,775 deaths have been attributed to the virus. Nationally, 50.94m people have received their first vaccine, 46.34m have received their second, and 17.90m (up from 15.33m seven days ago) have received their third/booster dose. This brings the total number of inoculations carried out, by the private sector and National Health Service, to almost 115.18m.

Will the UK Lockdown?

In recent days, the Netherlands and Austria have both imposed strict lockdown measures within their countries. If the UK were to follow the strategy of it’s close ally, the Netherlands, it would include three weeks of the hospitality and sports sectors being closed by 17:00. Furthermore, a maximum of four guests (aged over 13) are allowed at people’s homes and people are expected to work from home if possible. To avoid this from happening the UK Government on Monday (29 November) offered all over-18s a third/booster jab as long as the second jab was longer than three months ago.

It is impossible to forecast lockdown strategies for the UK but recent measures include all foreign travellers conducting a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving (requiring them to self-isolate until a negative result is proven). Since Tuesday (30 November), the British government has announced new rules on self-isolation with face masks mandated in shops and on public transport- with fines of up to £200. Although, the Health Secretary has stressed that a lockdown is not planned unless the NHS came under “unsustainable pressure”.

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