The lockdown on all non-essential retail began straight after Christmas.
Dr Lisa Wilson, senior economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute, said: “The number of employees on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on December 31 in Northern Ireland was just shy of 95,000.
“This equates to about 12% of all employees – indicating just how important the job retention scheme has been at protecting the incomes of a significant proportion of workers through the crisis – and serving as a stark reminder that the security and protection provided by the scheme is the only reason that we have not seen a tidal-wave increase in unemployment.”
She said there had been a number of “step-change” increases in the total of employees furloughed since the low point of 65,000 at the end of September, and the return to lockdowns.
The economist added: “Not even the brief ease out of lockdown through a period of December has done enough to really stifle the continued rise of the number of employees furloughed through the last number of months.”
She said there was an expectation that a large proportion of hospitality workers will transition back into jobs once public health restrictions are lifted and businesses are allowed to reopen.
“The longer the public health crisis goes on however the less likely, not least because people’s consumption patterns may have changed quite drastically when we come out the other end.”
She said some other sectors have perhaps higher take-up rates than people might have thought they would.
“These sectors are perhaps one which we have thought are less affected by lockdown restrictions as manufacturing has been exempt from the public health restrictions to shut.”