Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 72 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
Prison visits are to resume from 27 July, Justice Minister Naomi Long announced today.
The announcement was made as Executive ministers approved more easements to the Covid-19 lockdown, including the ability for places of worship to hold baptisms and indoor marriage ceremonies.
With preparations underway to ensure prison visits follow all health guidelines to keep staff, inmates and visitors safe, Minister Long revealed: “The work being done to keep our prisons safe for staff and those in our care has been hugely impressive and I want to pay tribute to the Prison Service and our partners for their dedication throughout this time. The careful reintroduction of visits will be welcome progress for families and those in our care: family contact is an important part of rehabilitation and I’m pleased we are now in a position to move this forward.”
The Northern Ireland Prison Service has during lockdown harnessed technology to keep prisoners in touch with their loved ones.
More than 8,000 virtual visits have taken place since April.
The guidance on prison visits has also been updated and recommends:
- Where possible virtual visiting remains the preferred option;
- Anyone showing or experiencing the symptoms of Covid-19 or any other infection should not visit, even if these symptoms are mild and unconfirmed;
- Visitors must rigorously follow public health hygiene advice – washing heads before and after visits, using hand sanitiser gel and maintain social distancing;
- Only one visitor is permitted to visit at a time;
- Children under the age of 16 will not be permitted to visit. In the event of exceptional circumstances, this can be raised through the internal request mechanism; and
- Visitors will be required to undertake a temperature check upon entry to any NIPS establishment.
Indicative arrangements for the resumption of indoor weddings, civil partnerships and baptisms were approved by ministers at today’s Executive meeting.
Subject to final ratification at the next meeting of the Executive this Thursday (July 9), ministers agreed that places of worship may resume baptisms from this Friday.
Provided the rates of Covid-19 infection remain below the R rate of 1, ministers will also be asked on Thursday to confirm that indoor marriage ceremonies will take place in places of worship from July 10.
Local government offices and other venues will also be permitted to host marriage and civil partnership services from the same date.
However it will be up to individual venues to determine their precise opening date and to conduct risk assessments to ensure they have appropriate measures in place.
They must also ensure all ceremonies and post ceremony events are conducted in line with public health advice.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the Executive’s decision on wedding venues was another step forward for the hospitality sector.
The Minister stressed: “Hotels and private venues will need to assure themselves that they have taken the appropriate steps to put precautions in place for the safety of staff and customers. It is, therefore, likely that many will not be ready for July 10. However they are free to host weddings any time after that date once they have measures in place.”
Minister Dodds said it was also essential that clear guidance is given to hotels and private venues about what would and would not be permitted on their premises.
She noted: “Wedding celebrations, irrespective of where they are held, are associated with social interaction, line-ups and hand shaking, as well as music and dancing. My officials will work with colleagues in the Executive Office and Department of Health to develop guidance, ensuring that any issues specific to hotels are also covered.”
Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín welcomed a £33 million boost to the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget, following the announcement by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that they are to invest £1.57 billion in cultural, arts and heritage institutions.
With Executive ministers to decide how the £33 million will be spent, Minister Ní Chuilín argued a comprehensive package for the arts sector in Northern Ireland was needed.
The Minister said: “Whilst ultimately it will be for the Executive to decide on how this money should be spent, the argument for a comprehensive package of support to local musicians, freelancers, theatres, artists, museums and the heritage sector at a time when they are struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Last week, I announced that the sector is to benefit from an initial £4m from Executive funds. However, it was always expected that much more additional finance would be required to help protect the sector that is vital to our economy and wellbeing. I will be making strong representations to my Executive colleagues at the earliest opportunity on how this money should be spent to ensure the short term and long term sustainability of the sector.”
Notes to editors:
- The Northern Ireland Executive is producing a regular digest of key initiatives and decisions that have been undertaken by ministers and their Departments relating to the Coronavirus crisis.
- Members of the public are encouraged to check regularly the Public Health Agency, NI Direct, NI Executive and government departmental websites and social media channels for public health advice on how to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
- The Coronavirus: Executive Approach to Decision-Making document, which outlines how the Executive is approaching key decisions relating to Covid-19 restrictions on society, is available on The Executive Office website - www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-executive-approach-decision-making
- Current information and advice in relation to Covid-19 can be found on the PHA website at https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus.
- The latest update on Covid-19 is also available at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/COVID%20update%20for%20Executive%2008%20June.pdf
- Patients who have a persistent cough, or high temperature, together with any other members of their household must self-isolate according to the guidance on the PHA website at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus#what-should-i-do-if-i-think-i-have-coronavirus and should book a test immediately via can be booked by phoning 119 or through the website nhs.uk/coronavirus. Tests are available for everyone over the age of five.
- The ‘Test, Trace and Protect’ strategy can be accessed via: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/Test-Trace-Protect-Support-Strategy.pdf
- The Department of Health NI’s Covid-19 NI information app provides people with immediate advice and links to vital trusted information. The app will be updated as the pandemic evolves. Download the Covid-19 NI app - search for Covid-19 NI on the Apple app store and Covid-19 NI on google play. The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
- A Covid-19 statistical dash board can also be viewed on the Department of Health’s website at: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWFhZDgzZDYtMTE4Yi00MTBjLWIzYmQtMTZhYzc1MGEyMTk1IiwidCI6IjljOWEzMGRlLWQ4ZDctNGFhNC05NjAwLTRiZTc2MjVmZjZjNSIsImMiOjh9.
- The Framework for the Wellbeing of Health and Social Care staff can be accessed at the following link: www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/HSC_Regional%20Staff%20Wellbeing%20Framework.pdf and is based on evidence and best practice guidance and is informed by The British Psychological Society Guidance Paper.
- Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
- The Helplines will be made available by each Trust to all their staff, to all GP Practices in their area, to all Ambulance staff based in their area and to all independent sector care providers in their area. In this way support is offered to all parts of the system throughout surge.
- The Framework document is supported by resources which are available on the PHA website: www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/guidance-hsc-staff/staff-health-and-wellbeing.
- If you are in distress or despair at any time including the Covid-19 crisis, the 24/7 Lifeline helpline is available on 0808 808 8000 where trained counsellors are available to help you.
- Updated guidance for care homes is available on DoH website at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-guidance-nursing-and-residential-care-homes-northern-ireland
- Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
- The Freephone Covid-19 Community Helpline can be accessed by telephone on 0808 802 0020; email email@example.com or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
- Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
- A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements.
- Forms for those applying to provide supervision to vulnerable children and the children of key workers can be accessed from the Department of Education website using the following link: http://apps.education-ni.gov.uk/appc19vol/default.aspx..
- Information on the full range of Covid-19 related support for businesses is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business.
- The ‘Charting a course for the economy: our first steps’ paper can be accessed at: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/charting-course-economy
- Workplace safety guidance for Northern Ireland businesses is available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list
- Media enquiries should be directed to the relevant department using the following email addresses
The Executive Office: Press.Office@executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: PressOffice.Group@daera-ni.gov.uk
Department for Communities: Press.Office@communities-ni.gov.uk
Department of Education: Press.Office@education-ni.gov.uk
Department for the Economy: DfE.PressOffice@economy-ni.gov.uk
Department of Finance: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department for Infrastructure: Press.Office@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk
Department of Health: PressOffice@health-ni.gov.uk
Department of Justice: Press.Office@justice-ni.x.gsi.gov.uk
25. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.
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