Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
The relaxation of more lockdown restrictions was approved by Executive ministers today following a briefing on the current transmission rate of COVID-19.
First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed that the following activities would be permitted:
- outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people from Friday, June 12;
- indoor visits with one other household for those who live alone, with effect from Saturday, June 13 but excluding people who have to shield;
- the resumption of training by elite athletes from Monday, June 15;
- the provision of day-care by places of worship and community centres from Friday, June 12;
- the opening up of the remainder of the retail sector from Friday, June 12;
- the opening up of the housing market from Monday, June 15.
At the Executive’s Coronavirus press briefing, First Minister Arlene Foster said: “All of these announcements are further pieces of the normalisation jigsaw, as we emerge from lockdown. We have been able to fit those pieces into place because the majority of you have faithfully followed the medical and scientific advice on self-isolating, on limiting your activities in public, on social distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene. We need you to keep doing that. We will be able to make more progress, if everyone continues to follow the official public health advice, if you act sensibly, avoid large gatherings and if you wait patiently for other remaining restrictions to be lifted.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “We are appealing to people not to return to their normal behaviour. Do not take things for granted and please don’t let your guard down. Everyone has played their part in our response to this pandemic and has helped reduce the death toll and flatten the curve of the virus – not least our healthcare workers who have not only been the most exposed to the virus but have been the most essential part of the response. I have said before that until a vaccine is found we must learn to co-exist with the virus which will require community solidarity, will require caution and will require continued recognition that we are in this situation together and can also come out of this situation together.”
With the R rate of infection dropping to between 0.5-0.9, Health Minister Swann said: “Today, based on the scientific evidence and medical advice on the prevalence of infection and the course of the epidemic, we have agreed to make some significant relaxations to the restrictions that remain in place. However, with this freedom comes a serious responsibility for us all to follow the public health advice and guidelines to the letter. I urge everyone not to underestimate the threat of this virus or the possibility of a second wave of infection and keep working with us until Covid-19 is defeated.”
The next statutory review of the Regulations will be held on June 18.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds welcomed the reopening of all remaining retail.
Minister Dodds said: “This is a further step in getting the economy moving again. I would urge people to be considerate when they go shopping, and to think of others to ensure the safety of themselves and also the many staff returning to work. Please follow signs and instructions which will have been put in place to protect everyone. All stores must adhere to the relevant safety measures and ensure social distancing is maintained.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the reopening of the housing market was a significant step which would be particularly welcomed by those living in unsuitable accommodation who would be relieved to be able to move to more suitable housing,
However she added it did not represent a complete return to normality.
Minister Hargey explained: “The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different. Everyone involved in the process will have to adapt practices and procedures to ensure that the risk of the spread of coronavirus is reduced as far as possible. This will include doing more of the process online (such as initial virtual viewings), use of appointment systems and strict infection control procedures before, during and after viewings. Specific guidance has been developed with statutory, voluntary and community sector and industry stakeholders to set out how the ‘new’ process will work.”
Minister Hargey also revealed today she had written to the chief executives of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils about her plans to develop a Capital COVID-19 Recovery Revitalisation Scheme to help the recovery of town and city centres.
The Minister indicated her officials are:
- Considering how programmes such as the Department’s Revitalisation scheme can be targeted in a way that supports town and city centres during the recovery from the impact of Covid-19;
- Offering the use of Departmental owned assets and public spaces, such as Writer’s Square and Custom House Square in Belfast, where this will be helpful to businesses; and
- Making better use of existing Pavement Café legislation.
She said: “I have written to all Council Chief Executives to outline my intention to develop a Capital Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Scheme to fund works that will aid in the recovery of towns and cities. This could include equipment to control queueing, shop frontage amendments and small capital works including public realm. My Department is engaging with councils to shape the scheme to maximise the effectiveness of support. More details on this will be provided in due course. My Department owns a number of sites within town and city centres which have been acquired for regeneration purposes. It also owns a number of civic and public spaces in city and town centres. I will make these available, where this is helpful, to support safe queuing, social distancing or spill out space for cafes, bars and restaurants for example. I have encouraged councils to work with my Department to explore how we can help in this regard.”
The Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots today insisted the £25 million COVID-19 support package for the agriculture and horticulture sectors must be targeted towards those most in need, be evidence-based and distributed equitably.
In response to a Private Members’ Motion in the Assembly this week on the issue, the Minister said he had consulted many industry representatives and stakeholders since announcing the package in May including organisations, businesses and farmers from the red meat supply chain, dairy processors, farmers and the farming unions.
Minister Poots stressed: “This is not about singling out specific sectors or farm types, this is about stabilising our entire agricultural community by helping those hit hardest, deal with short term disruptions that would substantially threaten otherwise viable businesses. It is my intention to ensure the funding is driven towards those most in need and those who can clearly demonstrate tangible loses as a result of Covid-19. Those working in the industry, or who have a clear understanding of how it operates, will know that by taking this approach, the ripple effect will help support our agricultural communities and ensure that businesses can be sustainable and continue trading in the long term. “I will make my decision on how best to allocate this funding in the near future.”
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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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.
- 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.
- The online application form for small businesses that rent premises is available at: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/RentalPropertiesandNAVBelow1590.
- 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.
- A £100m rates relief package for businesses was announced on 17 March – https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/covid-19-ps100m-emergency-rates-package-businesses. A copy of the Rates Relief Information policy advice for Minister can be obtained via https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/publications/policy-advice-minister-rates-relief-information-paper
- 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
- Information about the COVID-19 Charities Fund is available from: https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/covid-19-charities-fund
- The Department of Health’s new framework, ‘Rebuilding Health and Social Care Services - Strategic Framework’ is available on the Department's website at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/rebuilding-hsc-services
- 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: email@example.com
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
- 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 on 028 9037 8110.
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