LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After Gov. Andy Beshear signed an order lifting Kentucky’s coronavirus mandates, he sat down with WDRB News to reflect on the past year and to look ahead.

Beshear said ending the restrictions signaled the end of a “long and painful journey.”

“I think what I feel the most is relief because these types of orders are something I never wanted to do, but I had to,” said Beshear. “I had to have the courage to do something unpopular to protect people.”

Beshear acknowledged his decisions came at the cost of lost jobs and shuttered businesses.

“The virus spread where the virus spread, and to save lives we had to take the steps we did. Is it fair that some people bore the brunt more than others based on their business? No. But the virus didn't care," he said.

Even with the economy rebounding, Beshear said he is not ready to do away with enhanced unemployment benefits which pay recipients an additional $300 per week. He said within seven to 10 days he will announce an incentive program designed to ease people back into the workforce.

“What we're looking at is bonuses ... upfront or after a certain period of time ... if you're on pandemic unemployment to come back into the workforce," he said.

Thousands of Kentuckians are still waiting to get their first unemployment check, despite the Beshear administration spending millions of dollars on outside help.

The governor again laid the blame at cuts made to the unemployment system in the previous administration, an overwhelming number of new claims, and the Republican-led legislature’s decision not to increase funding.

He said the backlog of claims should ease as the state schedules more in-person appointments.

“More of our people are vaccinated, and more people who need help are vaccinated," he said. "So what you're going to see is more of those appointments, and I think you'll see more resolutions.”

Beshear is now turning more attention to a 2023 re-election campaign knowing he will be judged on his handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Well I'm comfortable if I I'm judged on this crisis because I know that I tried to do the right thing," he said. "Even if others might not agree with me, I think they know that I've tried to do the right thing.”

The governor is confident the post-pandemic economy is about to explode.

“It's going to be exciting. We are seeing more announcements on a daily basis than ever before.”

Even with the mandates ended, Beshear said he is not declaring the pandemic over.

“We can declare the crisis is over. The pandemic continues. We need to get more people vaccinated. That's going to happen over time. But the restrictions, unless we see something crazy happen, are over.”

Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.