Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (19 June 2020)

Date published: 19 June 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.

Schools today received guidance from Education Minister Peter Weir on how to resume classroom learning in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The Restart Programme has been designed by the Department of Education in consultation with school leaders, trade unions and sectoral support bodies and outlines a number of measures, including the use of ‘protective bubbles’ in schools where social distancing cannot be achieved.

With primary and post-primary schools due to welcome back the first cohort of pupils on 24 August, Minister Weir said: “This guidance in many ways reinforces practices we have all become accustomed to.  It promotes regular hygiene practices on arrival at schools and throughout the school day and the application of the “catch it, bin it, kill it” principles. It builds on the Executive’s agreement of 18 June 2020, that the current social distancing guidance of two metres must continue to be followed between all adults and older year groups within the education sector, but that looking to a start-date of 24 August, a distance of one metre is an appropriate planning assumption between children and young people.” 

The Minister added: “Today is an important starting point in the journey to reopening schools and reflects our current circumstances. We will continue to be guided by medical and scientific developments between now and 24 August.”

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots also confirmed today that planning was underway at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) over how they would educate students from September.

While the college would prefer to deliver its courses through face-to-face learning, Minister Poots said it would only occur in environments where social distancing could be observed, according to the public health guidelines.

The Minister explained: “Where this is not possible, CAFRE will provide remote learning for lectures using digital learning technologies. This has already proved very successful when introduced for students during the last academic year. Practical learning is the unique feature of all our programmes at Greenmount, Loughry and Enniskillen campuses. The applied nature of the learning sets CAFRE graduates apart from their peers and is one of the main reasons that over 95 per cent of them are either in employment or further study following graduation. CAFRE will, therefore, continue to provide students with practical learning opportunities in line with the social distancing guidelines in place at that time.”

The safety and well-being of students and staff was the main priority of his Department, the Minister insisted, with teaching facilities, student accommodation, dining rooms and libraries also following the prevailing Public Health Agency guidance.  

Finance Minister Conor Murphy extended the emergency provision for tenants having difficulty paying rent on commercial leases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, tenants are protected from forfeiture on a lease until 30 June, 2020.

However with the economic recovery from lockdown only getting started, Minister Murphy decided the protective measure should be continued until 30 September 2020.

The Department of Finance also welcomed today a new voluntary Code of Practice for landlords and tenants published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The code encourages tenants to continue to pay their rent in full if they can but also acknowledges landlords should provide support to businesses in difficulty.

The Minister said: “I understand the financial pressure on landlords where rent is outstanding; however, I would again appeal for leniency to be shown to businesses in difficulty. I welcome publication of this new Code of Practice which seeks to promote good practice between tenants and landlords, working together to get through this pandemic.”

Health Minister Robin Swann today praised the work of the all-island Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Network to ensure patients could still access treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the health emergency, Northern Ireland patients have been able to access surgical and interventional cardiology services in Dublin and families have also been able to stay together while their children undergo treatment.

A total of 40 children had cardiac surgery in Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) from January to May 2020, compared to 27 children for the same time period in 2019.

Minister Swann said: “The continued commitment and dedication of the Belfast and Dublin Paediatric Cardiology teams demonstrates what true partnership working in a modern day health service looks like. I have heard first-hand about the work the nursing, medical and surgical staff at Children’s Health Ireland in Crumlin are doing and it is thanks to them and their colleagues in the Belfast Trust that we are now on the road to building a world class Paediatric Cardiology programme across our two health systems. That in itself is a unique achievement. To weather the additional challenges placed on them by Covid-19, to continue providing critical surgeries and saving lives, is something special. I would like to extend my thanks to those staff involved in delivering this service and to Minister Simon Harris for their continued support. I would also extend my sincere thanks to the paediatric cardiology team in the Belfast Trust for their care and support of their patients.”

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 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. 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.
  23. The ‘Charting a course for the economy: our first steps’ paper can be accessed at: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/charting-course-economy
  24. Workplace safety guidance for Northern Ireland businesses is available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list
  25. The original period for those advised to shield during the Covid-19 lockdown ends on 30 June. Following advice from the Chief Medical Officer, the Executive has agreed that, subject to community transmission remaining low, the shielding advice will be indefinitely paused from 31 July. It is possible that shielding will need to be resumed at some future date, depending on the risk. Everyone currently shielding will receive a letter with details about what the changes mean. Once shielding no longer applies, people who are shielding should follow the guidance provided to people who are generally vulnerable.  https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-vulnerable-people
  26. The Department of Education’s New School Day Guidance can be accessed at  https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-re-opening-school-guidance-new-school-day   
  27. 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
  28. 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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