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.
Socially distanced gatherings of up to six people will be permitted and places of worship can be reopened for acts of individual prayer under the latest round of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions to be lifted by Ministers.
Under the terms of the Executive’s five step roadmap to recovery, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced:
- Churches and other places of worship will be allowed to reopen their doors for individual prayer, provided they can adhere to all social distancing and public hygiene requirements.
- Drive-in religious services will also be permitted – provided people remain in their cars and the proper social distancing and hygiene advice is followed.
- Drive-in cinemas will also be allowed. Concerts and live theatre may also be facilitated but those attending must remain in their cars and adhere to the social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
- Outdoor activities that do not involve shared contact with hard surfaces will be permitted.
- Outdoor gatherings of up to six people not from the same household will be allowed but everyone must adhere to social distancing and public health guidelines.
First Minister Foster commented: “The relaxations that we have announced today have been made possible by the vast majority of you faithfully following the public health advice on self-isolation, on shielding, on social distancing and on limiting your activities in public and washing your hands thoroughly. They have been hard won freedoms and it is vital that when you exercise those freedoms you do it in a way that does not put anybody else’s safety at risk. As we move through the lifting of restrictions under Step 1 of our roadmap, we must proceed cautiously and adhere to public health advice. That is going to allow us to open up more freedoms in due course but you should remember if you are exhibiting the symptoms of Coronavirus, then you need to self-isolate.”
Deputy First Minister O’Neill added: “It is exactly two months today since we had our first Coronavirus related death here and while we are making good progress and we have come a long way, we certainly aren’t out of the woods yet. We have repeatedly cautioned the public not to become complacent because this virus is still among us and it is still a deadly virus and it is still taking the lives of individuals. We are working slowly and carefully to ease our way out of the lockdown, to restart community life and reboot the economy, to keep people in work and keep society functioning.”
The four Chief Medical Officers of the four nations of the UK today added the loss of a person’s sense of smell to the symptoms for Covid-19.
The change was announced in a joint statement issued by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith and the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty.
The four Chief Medical Officer’ statement said: “From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia. Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked. We have been closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on Covid-19 and, after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.”
Under the current guidelines, anyone exhibiting any of these symptoms should self-isolate for 14 days along with members of their household, unless the patient receives a negative test result.
Health Minister Robin Swann today announced Covid-19 testing will now be made available to all care home residents and staff next month across Northern Ireland.
The roll-out of testing to all residents will be completed next month and a rolling testing programme for staff in all care homes will be put in place.
Minister Swann explained: “Testing right across the care home sector is easier to demand than to deliver. It has always been my intention to over-deliver rather than to over-promise. Following detailed planning and preparatory work, I can now confirm that testing will be available to all residents and staff.”
The Minister added that in delivering additional testing, his officials had had to address important sensitivities such as the human rights of residents who may not consent to being tested or not be able to give their consent because of dementia.
He said: “The swab test for Covid-19 can be an unpleasant and intrusive process, so there are also issues in relation to subjecting frail older persons to swabbing, particularly in homes where there are no outbreaks. I am confident a way forward will be found on these issues, in close consultation with care home staff, residents and their family members.”
At present in Northern Ireland, care home staff and families have access to testing if they have symptoms. All staff and residents are also tested in homes when two or more people - staff or residents - have symptoms, as this is a possible outbreak scenario. Testing is underway for all residents and staff in homes where there have been previous outbreaks that have not been resolved.
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.
- 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.
- The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
- A Covid-19 statistical dashboard 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 email@example.com 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: PressOffice@economy-ni.gov.uk;
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Department for Infrastructure: Press.Office@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk
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- For out of office hours media queries, contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
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