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Coronavirus: Support for taxi, coach and bus firms 'brought forward'

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image captionTaxi drivers say their businesses have been severely disrupted by the pandemic

A coronavirus funding package for the taxi, private bus and coach sectors is to be brought forward "urgently".

Last week, Economy Minister Diane Dodds confirmed the scheme was under discussion.

The first and deputy first minister said the powers have been given to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to administer the schemes.

Ms Mallon will bring a paper to the executive on Thursday and then put in a formal bid with the finance minister.

The first and deputy first minister have also asked the minister to provide further detail of the impact of the pandemic on the road haulage sector.

"The operators of taxis, private buses and coaches have faced a significant reduction in demand for their services, yet their overheads have continued," said First Minister Arlene Foster.

"It is absolutely right that they should be able to avail of financial assistance to sustain them through this difficult time and I hope they will take some comfort in the knowledge that support will be forthcoming," she added.

'Really struggling financially'

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was "pleased that the executive's support schemes will soon include a bespoke funding package to alleviate the hardship being faced by workers in these sectors."

The infrastructure minister said she had been "engaging with the industry and said they had been going through a "really difficult time and were really struggling financially".

"My officials will work as fast as we can to get a scheme up and running and get help out to them," she said.

"I've said from the beginning of the pandemic that I don't have powers to provide for financial hardship, but that was recognised and I have now been given new powers," she told BBC News NI.

"My job is clear - I want to work as quickly as I can to devise the scheme, to get it open and get assistance to these people as quickly as possible," she added.

Meanwhile, six further Covid-19 related deaths were announced in Northern Ireland on Saturday, bringing the Department of Health's total to 645.

An additional 923 cases of the virus were also confirmed.

There are now 309 people in hospital in Northern Ireland with Covid-19; 34 of whom are in intensive care (ICU).

On Friday, government statistics agency Nisra said 17 Covid-19 related deaths were registered in Northern Ireland in the week up to 16 October.

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In the Republic of Ireland, four additional deaths related to Covid-19 were reported on Saturday.

Some 859 new confirmed cases have been reported.

There are now 315 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of which 37 are in ICU.

New coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Northern Ireland on 16 October.

Schools were closed for an extra week at half-term.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes across NI closed their doors to sit-in customers, while hair and beauty salons were also shut and gyms face additional measures.

The restrictions are scheduled to last for three more weeks, after which there will be a review.

The executive is due to meet next week to discuss how to manage a further strategy.

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  • Coronavirus: Mallon to oversee support for coach firms and taxis