Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (15 June 2020)

Date published: 15 June 2020

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.

The Executive today approved plans to provisionally allow tourism and hospitality businesses to serve customers again from 3 July.

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Economy Minister Diane Dodds confirmed that, depending on the rate of infection, caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation would reopen on 26 June.

However hotels and other tourist accommodation would reopen from 3 July.

Executive ministers also decided that from July 3:

  • Restaurants, coffee shops and cafes will provisionally reopen, with indoor bars and pubs allowed to serve food and alcohol on a table service basis.
  • Pubs and bars with outdoor spaces would be permitted to operate an outdoors table service selling alcohol.
  • Hotel restaurants would also be allowed to reopen with hotel bars restricted to serving meals along with alcohol on a table service basis. 
  • Hotels with outdoor spaces would also be permitted to sell alcohol in these spaces. 
  • Visitor attractions such as museums, historic houses, culture and heritage venues, can also open from 3rd July.

A working group on the gradual reopening of places of worship has also been established by the Executive, with representatives being contacted today ahead of its inaugural meeting this Wednesday (June 17).

Ministers agreed as well that childcare should be extended to key workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors, with officials in the Departments of Health and Education continuing to work alongside a reference group on the development of a Recovery Strategy for Childcare.

Describing the latest relaxations as a significant milestone on the road out of lockdown, First Minister Foster nevertheless sounded a note of caution at today’s Executive’s Covid-19 press briefing: “Some countries have seen spikes in COVID cases since emerging from lockdown, so we cannot afford to be complacent. All of the strides forward in recent weeks have been made possible by all of you implementing the public health advice and taking on the responsibility to stop the spread of this insidious disease. We have come so far on the Executive’s roadmap to recovery but the journey is far from over. We all have a role to play in ensuring we can reach our destination safely.”

Deputy First Minister O’Neill added: “Our priority in the opening of the hospitality and tourism sector is the safety of customers, staff and the wider community. The industry can now work towards these dates to ensure safe reopening in line with all of the relevant legislation and guidance but we still must be cautious. These announcements are good and welcome progress in the right direction. As long as the scientific evidence is still showing us that we can keep moving forward in this direction, we will continue to implement a steady rolling programme of relaxations.”

After the approval of her proposals for the tourism and hospitality sector, Minister Dodds said while the Executive had provided clarity on the reopening dates, it was up to individual businesses to decide when they would be able to serve customers.

She said: “These businesses will operate in a new and challenging world when they begin to emerge from Covid-19. Social distancing and hygiene practices will be essential to reassure customers and employees that establishments are as Covid-19 safe as possible.  The UK Government has been developing guidance to help tourism and hospitality businesses plan for social distancing and hygiene measures. My Department and Tourism NI are looking at how this might be tailored to Northern Ireland in consultation with industry, PHA, HSENI and other bodies. This guidance should be published shortly and I would encourage all relevant businesses to refer to, and apply, it.”

The relaxations came on the back of the publication yesterday by the Department of Health of the most recent scientific data about Covid-19 for the Executive.

The R (reproduction number) is estimated at between 0.5 and 0.9, based on a range of different models and input variables but it is not the only factor that influences Executive decisions about social distancing and other restrictions. 

In reaching any decision on relaxations, Ministers also consider the number of Covid-19 cases and other indicators of the activity of the Coronavirus, in addition to the benefits which may flow from lifting restrictions.

Minister Dodds also announced today the partial reopening of further education colleges and work-based-learning providers to facilitate the delivery of vocational qualifications this summer.

During a visit to the Southern Regional College’s Portadown campus, she announced the move which followed her announcement in late April regarding the alternative arrangements put in place for vocational qualifications in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the cancellation of scheduled assessments and exams.

The Minister said: “The colleges have completed the necessary risk assessments and implemented the health and safety measures required, and I am pleased to announce a partial and targeted reopening to facilitate the assessments which will be key to increasing the number of learners who are able to progress. Over 2,850 FE learners will now achieve their qualifications as a result of the completion of the adaptive assessments, which will take place in those subject areas where the associated industrial sector has been given approval to return to work. I want to congratulate and thank all the colleges and their staff for their continued hard work to date, and the students and their families for their ongoing patience and support during what remains a very challenging time.”

Amenities at Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs-owned forest and country parks also began the process of reopening today.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots authorised the reopening of toilet facilities and vans selling food, ice creams and beverages onsite.

Minister Poots explained: “I am opening these facilities as a further step to aid recovery and to provide a more complete experience for people visiting these fantastic outdoor venues. In doing so, I would once again stress the need for visitors to use the facilities responsibly and continue to play their part in reducing Covid-19 risks for everyone.”

The Minister also visited two community organisations that have received funding from his Department to deal with issues affecting the rural community during Covid-19.

During his visit to Annaghmore LOL in Castledawson and the Crossfire Trust in Darkley, he saw how they used their portion of the £250,000 Coronavirus Community Fund to address the needs of vulnerable and isolated people in their local communities.

Minister Poots said afterwards: “Organisations like Crossfire Trust and Annaghmore LOL are the heartbeat of a rural community and during times of challenge, they are a lifeline to those living in remote areas. Through the Community Foundation and the Rural Community Network, my Department have to date provided funding to over 80 rural organisations, so that they can help on the ground, with things like emergency food packages, oil delivery, blankets and duvets and delivery of medicines. The Fund is targeted at supporting isolated older people (aged over 50), as well as those people of all ages who are at increased risk in relation to poor mental health and wellbeing; and vulnerable isolated people and families, particularly those living in rural areas. I wanted to see the impacts on the ground for myself and am very impressed with their work and pleased that we’ve been able to help.”

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. 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
  4. 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.
  5. The latest Covid-19 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  17. 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.
  18. Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
  19. 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.
  20. A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements.
  21. 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.
  22. The online application form for small businesses that rent premises is available at: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/RentalPropertiesandNAVBelow1590.  
  23. 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.
  24. 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 
  25. The ‘Charting a course for the economy: our first steps’ paper can be accessed at: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/charting-course-economy
  26. Workplace safety guidance for Northern Ireland businesses is available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list
  27. Information about the COVID-19 Charities Fund is available from:  https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/covid-19-charities-fund
  28. 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.
  29. Information on each Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs owned forest and country park and the services available at them will be updated regularly on www.nidirect.gov.uk/public-forests.
  30. 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: dof.pressoffice@finance-ni.gov.uk

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

31. 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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