Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (10 April 2020)

Date published: 10 April 2020

Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the last 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Covid-19 Executive Update
Covid-19 Executive Update

Northern Ireland Executive Ministers and their officials have over the last 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Members of the public were urged today by all Northern Ireland Executive Ministers to stay at home this Easter and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a joint video message on social media, Ministers said staying at home is the best gift people can give to doctors and nurses and all those working on the frontline in the fight back against the disease.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We should remember that the message of Easter is all about hope. We know and trust that these difficult times will pass. By staying home this weekend, and the days to come, we will protect each other and our whole community and prevent heartbreak being brought to someone’s door.”

The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “We are depending on our healthcare staff and other frontline workers to get us through this time of crisis. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and the best way we can show them how much we appreciate what they are doing is by staying at home.”

Members of the public can only go out of their homes:

  • to shop for basic necessities once a day at the most;
  • to take exercise no more than once a day, alone, or with your household;
  • for medical reasons for yourself, or if providing care or to support a vulnerable person; and
  • to travel to essential work if it absolutely cannot be done from home.

Justice Minister Naomi Long welcomed the introduction by the Northern Ireland Prison Service of virtual prison visits for prisoners and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The virtual visits, which last up to 20 minutes, can be booked by a family member using their own computer, tablet or smartphone and takes place using a secure video-link with the jail.

Minister Long said the initiative recognised the importance of family contact for those in the care of the prison service at a time when social distancing was necessary.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirmed that from today, taxi vehicle licences which have expired or will expire during the current health emergency will be automatically renewed.

The move ensures vehicles that have previously been tested and deemed suitable to operate as taxis can continue to provide a service to passengers making essential journeys during the COVID-19 emergency.

Minister Mallon had previously announced all vehicles with MOTs due would be given temporary exemption certificates. However new legislation was required to temporarily exempt taxis from taxi vehicle tests. 

The Minister explained: “Automatic renewals will be for a six month period and will be issued free of charge. There is no application process and those with licences that have expired recently, or are due to expire shortly, will be prioritised.” 

A total of 14 clusters involving 56 schools have been formally registered for the supervision of vulnerable children and the children of key workers, Education Minister Peter Weir revealed.

A further 42 schools have also indicated they are interested in becoming involved in cluster arrangements, so they can pool resources and provide safe and welcoming places for the children.

This follows the introduction of clustering to help ensure that schools and pre-school settings can provide a sustainable service for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

Minister Weir said: “In addition, the Education Authority (EA) has put in place a comprehensive support system for schools and key worker parents to ensure, as far as possible, that every parent needing a place for their child can secure one. Key workers can apply online for assistance and will be allocated a caseworker who will work with them to meet their needs.”

“I am pleased that the number of children needing a placement continues to decrease and am grateful to the Education Authority along with our other education partners and school leaders for stepping forward to provide this important service during this crisis.”

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots highlighted the key role farm supply businesses play in providing essential services to farmers and helping to put food on our tables.

With farmers serving as a vital part of the food supply chain, Minister Poots said the sector was also reliant on a functioning and viable ancillary supply chain providing feed, equipment, supplies and services.

“This supply chain consists of ‘unseen’ heroes – small family-run businesses, self-employed individuals, rural shops and online supply stores in rural areas. Their continued support to the food and farming sector is vital as we battle against COVID-19,” he said.

After a week of falling prices for beef cattle, sheep and dairy products, Minister Poots also acknowledged the difficult financial circumstances the agri-food industry has faced during the COVID-19 emergency and vowed to do all he could to help.

Minister Poots said: In the past week, I have written to George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, seeking his assurance that Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector needs are front and centre of any support packages from the UK Government and the EU.

“I have also met with many of Northern Ireland’s banks and impressed upon them the need to be helpful to the farming sector in particular. Farming is facing the brunt of the economic impacts of COVID-19 and we must find ways to support these small businesses and keep them afloat in the short to medium term. Some banks are moving faster to address the crisis situation in agriculture, and they are to be commended. Now is a time when the farming community need their banks to stand with them as they deal with circumstances beyond their control. The farming community is resilient, it needs resilient banking at this time.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Current information and advice in relation to Covid-19 can be found on the PHA website at: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus
  4. 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: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus#what-should-i-do-if-i-think-i-have-coronavirus
  5. The Department of Health NI has launched a new Covid-19 NI information app to provide 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  8. The Freephone COVID-19 Community Helpline can be accessed by telephone on 0808 802 0020; email covid1@adviceni.net or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
  9. Volunteer Now has launched a new online campaign #HelpEachOther for those who wish to volunteer for COVID-19 related opportunities and for those organisations which require the support of volunteers to deliver their services to the most in need. Further information is available at: www.volunteernow.co.uk
  10. A list of schools which are open for educational supervision is available on the Department of Education website: www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/schools-open-supervised-learning-key-workers-children-and-vulnerable-children.
  11. A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements
  12. 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
  13. In addition to the £300million in Covid-19 funding announced today, the Northern Ireland Executive has already allocated £634.8 million as follows:
  • Department for Communities – Discretionary Support - £5million.
  • Department for Economy – Small Business Grant (£10k for business eligible for Small Business Rate Relief) – benefiting 27,000 businesses - £270million. Hospitality, Tourism and Retail Sectors Grant (£25k for business with a rateable value between £15k and £51k) - £100million.
  • Department of Education – Direct payment to families of 97,000 children who are entitled to free school meals – £18.9million.
  • Department of Finance – Business Rates Holiday (3 months) – £99million.
  • Department of Health – Includes but not restricted to: mobilising the health and social care response, including additional staffing, ramping up of testing, and securing essential personal protection and other equipment; and providing much needed support for primary and community care sectors and suspension of car parking charges for staff – £140million.
  • Department of Justice – Additional resources have been provided to the Prison Service to meet the challenges due to COVID-19 – £1.9 million.

14. Media enquiries should be directed to the relevant department using the following email addresses. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

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