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

Date published: 15 May 2020

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.

Covid-19 Executive Update
Covid-19 Executive Update

Applications for a new £40 million hardship scheme for microbusinesses impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis will open in the next week, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced today.

Minister Dodds told the Executive’s daily press conference: “The scheme is targeted at businesses, with one to nine employees, facing immediate cash flow difficulties due to Covid-19. Invest NI will run the scheme and will publish the eligibility criteria this evening. An online eligibility checker will also open next week to enable businesses to check if they qualify and the scheme will open in the next seven days.”

The Department for the Economy has also made funding available to businesses impacted by the lockdown through two other schemes – a £10,000 Small Business Support Scheme and a £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Grant.

The £25,000 grant scheme for businesses in the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors will also open to businesses that occupy rental properties as sole tenants from 9.00pm tonight, Economy Minister Diane Dodds has confirmed.

Business owners in this category should visit nibusinessinfo from 9.00pm, and before midnight on Wednesday 20 May, to register.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots gave the go-ahead today for the public angling estate to gradually re-open to local anglers from Monday.

With DAERA run angling venues across Northern Ireland re-opening to the public for recreational use, anglers are being asked to only use their local DAERA venue and not to travel long distances. Car parking facilities at the sites will remain closed until 27 May 2020.

Minister Poots explained: “By its nature, angling is a solo sport or hobby, and its participants can enjoy a day’s fishing without being in close contact with others. The sport has huge benefits for people’s mental and physical well-being and in this time of uncertainty, I know that many people have missed the solitude and peace that angling and being outdoors with nature, brings them.

“However, let me be clear – anglers must continue to follow social distancing guidelines, practice good hand hygiene and walk to their nearest PAE, fishing alone or with a member of their own household. I do not want to see crowds of people near the river banks and fisheries."

Minister Poots also welcomed the Executive’s decision to lift Covid-19 restrictions on the public’s access to garden centres and household waste recycling centres.

The Minister confirmed: “Both garden centres and household waste recycling centres have put in place strict social distancing measures to protect their staff and customers. I’m sure everyone will welcome their re-opening and I urge everyone to adhere to the new, safer ways of visiting and using them.”

As the public prepared for another weekend under lockdown, Health Minister Robin Swann urged people to still stick firmly to social distancing and keep fighting back against Covid-19.

While progress is being made in the battle against the virus and the Executive has started to tentatively relax some restrictions, the Minister reminded members of the public that the situation remained fragile.

Minister Swann observed: “It is clear that the death rate from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland is decreasing. However, people are still losing their lives and this virus continues to pose a very real threat. We must not let up with all the efforts that are being made. We must not undo the hard-fought progress that has been made in flattening the curve. Some adjustments are being made in the regulations on social distancing in Northern Ireland. That does not mean a general relaxation is imminent or that people can relax their guard. That is the last thing we should be doing.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey visited Strabane to witness the community effort to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

The Minister visited the Strabane Community Project, one of the organisations leading the community response through its Meals On Wheels and Food Market and its involvement in the Department for Communities’ Food Parcel Service.

She also popped into the Grassroots Café and Food Market, which was established as part of the Department’s Social Supermarket Pilot Programme – providing fresh food, as well as advice on benefits, budgeting, debt, family support, healthy eating, fuel poverty support and a range of essential skills and employability training.

Minister Hargey observed: “Strabane Community Project is an excellent example of a grassroots community organisation taking the lead in delivering vital services in their communities to those most in need. The volunteer effort they have managed to mobilise is testament both to their organisation and the local community themselves, who have come together to help the most vulnerable at this difficult time.”

A new digital safeguarding app was launched by Education Minister Peter Weir to support children and young people during the Covid-19 emergency.

The 'Safer Schools' app gives children, young people, schoolteachers, patents and carers access to advice on a range of digital issues, including safeguarding on social media platforms, bullying, sexting and emerging online trends.

Pupils who sign up receive different content depending on their year group.

Minister Weir said: “As our children and young people have more free time during the lockdown, it is only natural they will spend more time online.  We want to make sure young people have all the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe online. Thousands have already downloaded the app and I want to, again, encourage all children, young people, schools, parents and carers to use this essential resource. Keeping our children safe has never been more important.”

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. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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
  15. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  16. 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.
  17. Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
  18. 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.
  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. Victims of domestic and sexual abuse can access a 24hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline on 0808 802 1414 and there are also non-verbal ways for victims to reach out through the Helpline, for example via web and instant message. Further information is available on the following websites; https://www.womensaidni.org/get-help/local-groups/, http://www.mapni.co.uk/ and https://dsahelpline.org/. If victims of abuse need to ring the PSNI but are too scared to speak, there is a ‘silent solution’ available – enabling them to call 999 and press 55 when prompted. This lets police know it is a genuine emergency.
  25. The Safer Schools app has been offered to the Department of Education by the iNEQE Safeguarding Group. Further information about the app is available in the Minister’s letter to schools: www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/letter-schools-safer-schools-app. Download and login instructions can be found online at www.ineqe.com/safer-schools-ni: www.ineqe.com/safer-schools-ni. Entry codes for School Staff will be emailed to school Principals or available upon request by emailing saferschoolsni@ineqe.com
  26. 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.u ;
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

27. For out of office hours media queries, contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

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