Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (16 April 2020)

Date published: 16 April 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

Newtownards’ Driver and Vehicle Agency test centre today became the latest site to offer COVID-19 testing by appointment for healthcare workers.

Following the recent conversion of the Balmoral MOT test centre for the testing of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust workers, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed the Newtownards centre had been handed over to the South Eastern HSC Trust.

During a visit to the Newtownards test centre, Minister Mallon said: “I will continue to support the work of Minister Swann in any way that I can and if any further MOT test centres can be repurposed quickly to help increase testing for COVID-19 more rapidly, my Department will work with Trusts to make this happen as soon as possible."    

Minister Swann added: “I am delighted that the HSC has been able to work closely in partnership with colleagues in the Department for Infrastructure and at MOT centres to make use of these excellent facilities as the need arises. Testing undertaken at DVA sites has been key to supporting local Trust capacity as part of our fight against COVID-19.”

Minister Swann also visited Kircubbin Health Centre where he met staff delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to domiciliary care workers.

The South Eastern Trust has established a PPE delivery service, travelling to various points across the trust area including Portaferry, Holywood and Bangor, making it easier for domiciliary care workers to get the PPE they need. 

The Minister said: “The establishment of this collection point by the SE Trust on the Ards Peninsula means that domiciliary care workers can come here and collect what they need, when they need it. Domiciliary care workers play an important role in all our communities, looking after and caring for our most vulnerable. It’s important that they are supported to do their job throughout this pandemic.” 

The wellbeing of health and social care staff on the frontline was also the focus of Minister Swann today, who insisted it was a key priority for his Department.

His comments came following the launch of a new framework, drawing upon World Health Organisation guidance with input from senior clinicians in clinical psychology and other partners including the trade unions, occupational health services, the Public Health Agency, the Health and Social Care Board and the Health and Social Care Leadership Centre.

Minister Swann said: “Expressions of public support are vital, as are personal resilience and commitment. But we also must assure staff that it is okay not to feel okay and that their colleagues and leaders will be there to help them through.”

The measures within the framework include a range of initiatives across organisations which will enhance the psychological well-being of staff. These include access to Psychological Support Helplines manned by psychologists, a broad range of online resources and drop-in services in critical facilities.

A Staff Wellbeing Working Group will also oversee service delivery and review implementation of the framework across NI.

Minister Mallon announced today that water and sewerage bills for business and non-domestic customers will be held back until July to lessen the financial burden on them during the COVID-19 emergency.

A planned annual increase in the non-domestic water and sewerage tariff will also be deferred and reviewed in the autumn.

In order to guarantee NI Water’s cashflow, the Department will re-profile its funding arrangements with the company for the coming months, with the support of key stakeholders including the Utility Regulator and Consumer Council NI.

Education Minister Peter Weir outlined the process today for grading GCSE and A level students whose examinations will not now take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following measures have been approved for students taking examinations set by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA):

  • Calculated grades will be issued for those completing A level, A/S level and GCSE qualifications, based on a combination of information provided by schools and colleges and statistical information.
  • A/S level grades will count as a stand-alone qualification; they will not contribute to a final A level grade in 2021.
  • Grades will be awarded for GCSEs due to complete in 2020 (mostly year 12s), but not for GCSE units where GCSEs are due to complete in 2021 (mostly year 11s). In the latter case, pupils will have the option to take any outstanding units in 2021 and have missing components calculated using statistical modelling and/or to sit all units in 2021 and be awarded the higher grade from either option.

The measures were reached following consultation with key education stakeholders, including head teachers’ representatives and teaching unions.

Explaining his rationale in the Assembly Minister Weir revealed:  “Today, I have set out how qualifications will be awarded for GCSE and A level pupils.  This will involve teachers using their professional judgement together with an extensive range of evidence held by schools, and statistical modelling.  There will also be a process for standardising outcomes across school and other examination centres. 

“The development of an appropriate appeals mechanism is also under consideration, as well as arrangements for private candidates.  Whilst there will not be an opportunity for pupils to take re-sits in the autumn, they can, of course, choose to re-sit in the summer of 2021. I will also seek to align the issuing of results with England and Wales (i.e. A level results on 13 August and GCSEs on 20 August), thus ensuring that local candidates are not put at a disadvantage.” 

The Minister confirmed his officials are working closely with colleagues in the Department for the Economy on arrangements for vocational qualifications. Details will be announced by the Economy Minister as soon as that work has been completed.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced plans to introduce legislation in the Assembly to extend the notice to quit period a landlord must give a tenant to 12 weeks.

The Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Bill 2020 is designed to provide private renters with additional protections during the Covid-19 period.

Minister Hargey said: “There has been support for buy-to-let landlords to avail of a three month mortgage holiday, and I have announced that private renters can get assistance to pay their rent through Universal Credit and Discretionary Housing Payments. 

“The legislation I am introducing will further strengthen the protections in place for private renters as it will make sure that no tenant is evicted because of inability to pay rent during this period of economic disruption.  The BiIl will ensure that landlords are required to give tenants 12 weeks notice to quit before seeking a court order to begin proceedings to evict and therefore reduce the possibility of tenants in the private rented sector becoming homeless.”

The Minister has written to the Speaker with a view to introducing the Bill in the Assembly on 21 April 2020.

In the meantime, landlords should not proceed with notices to quit during this unprecedented time, given the associated risks to public health.

The Lord Chief Justice's Office has also announced that courts will only be listing urgent matters.  Once a landlord has served a notice to quit on a tenant, they can then only get possession of the property through an application to the court.  These matters are not deemed urgent matters 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: https://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: https://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. 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.
  7. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. 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.
  15. A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements
  16. 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
  17. A Level Awarding - For A level, we anticipate that the calculated grade, which uses statistical predictions  based on previous student performance combined with teacher/centre assessed grades and teacher/centre rank orders, will provide a reliable grade outcome. Students will not be required to take A level examinations through an additional sitting, such as an autumn series.
  18. AS Awarding - All AS students will receive an AS grade and there will be no AS exams until summer 2021. The grade awarded will be based on previous student performance combined with teacher/centre assessed grades and teacher/centre rank orders. Awarding organisations are working towards the model on which grades will be awarded and in which teacher/centre assessed grades and teacher/centre rank orders will be used. The nature of the AS grade awarded in 2020 will not allow it to contribute to A level results in 2021.
  19. In summer 2021, students will have two options for their A level award. If a student chooses to only sit the required A2 units, then their AS outcomes will be calculated using statistical predictions based on their performance in the A2 units. If they choose to sit any AS units, alongside the A2 units, they will be awarded the highest grade at A level from either route.
  20. GCSE Awarding - Students who were due to sit GCSE exams that would have led to a whole GCSE qualification this summer will be issued a grade using teacher/centre assessed grades and rank ordering.
  21. Students who were due to sit units that will lead to GCSE grades in 2021 will not receive a unit result this year. For those students, there will be two options. In 2021 they can sit the units they planned to take next year, and not the unit(s) they entered for in summer 2020. These 2020 units will have a mark calculated using statistical predictions based on their performance in the 2021 units. As a result, an overall GCSE grade will be awarded in 2021.
  22. Alternatively, they can choose to sit all the units in summer 2021. Whichever option a student chooses, they will be awarded the highest grade.
  23. 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: 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

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