Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the last five days been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots and Health Minister Robin Swann approved the use of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) laboratories to test up to 1,000 samples a day from suspect COVID-19 cases.
AFBI will deliver the service at its labs in Stormont for an initial 12 week period, via a newly established consortium with Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.
Queen’s will act as the liaison with DoH, PHA and the trusts’ lab network and have also offered staff to help undertake testing at the Veterinary Services Division.
Ulster University are working mainly with the Western HSC Trust to establish and support testing at Altnagelvin.
Minister Poots said: “Subject to us being able to secure the key test kits and reagents, AFBI is able to offer its technical and scientific expertise which will hugely support the HSC efforts in the critical area of diagnostic testing. When fully operational in a number of weeks it is expected that AFBI may test up to 1,000 samples per day.”
Minister Swann said: “All those bodies who have stepped forward to assist with increasing our testing capacity will play a crucial part in enhancing our armoury as we fight against COVID-19. I wish to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to colleagues in AFBI, Queen’s and Ulster Universities and I also pass on the thanks of my frontline staff and the community as a whole for their efforts.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey launched a £500,000 Hardship Fund for sports clubs and sporting organisations unable to benefit from other COVID-19 mitigation funds.
Sports clubs and sporting organisations from the voluntary and community sector trying to maintain their facilities during the pandemic will be able to apply to Sport NI for a small grant of £2,000 to help with immediate financial commitments.
Minister Hargey said: “Sport will have a crucial role to play in helping communities to get through this crisis and to help society come out of the lockdown period. It is therefore essential that sporting organisations and clubs are in a position to offer communities and individuals access to sport and physical activities as soon as it is safe to do so.”
An initial budget of £500,000 has been allocated for the Hardship Fund for Sport up to 30 June 2020. Successful applications will receive a flat rate grant of £2,000 each.
On April 10, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced financial support for business specifically targeted at the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors to help them during the outbreak.
Businesses in the sectors can apply from April 20 for grants of £25,000, with the applications taking around 15 working days to process, subject to verification of eligibility.
The Small Business Support Grant Scheme, providing grants of £10,000, will also be extended to include small industrial businesses that qualify for industrial de-rating.
Minister Dodds said: “In recent years, the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland have flourished, but their sustainability is based on people being able to travel, shop and socialise. COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief the fragility of these sectors and I am acutely aware of the hardship now being faced by these businesses.
“Over 4,000 businesses in these sectors will be able to apply for grants of £25,000 from Monday 20 April. Information on eligibility and how to apply will be available on the nibusinessinfo website and I urge anyone who believes they are eligible to apply from that date.”
With both schemes closing for applications on Wednesday 20 May, the Minister indicated work was continuing in setting up a fund to support other businesses that are currently unable to access existing regional or national grant schemes.
As of 10 April, 14,716 payments have been issued under the Small Business Support Grant Scheme.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- For more information about the Hardship Fund for Sport please visit http://www.sportni.net/funding/our-funding-programmes/sports-hardship-fund.
- Details of the £25,000 grant scheme for businesses in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors are available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-£25000-hospitality-tourism-and-retail-grant.
- Details of the expanded £10,000 Small Business Support Grant Scheme are available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-business-support-grant-schemes
- Details of the full range of support measures for businesses are at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business
- 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.
- 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
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