Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (20 May 2020)

Date published: 20 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

A £25 million boost for the beef and dairy sectors was today welcomed by the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots.

During a visit to Stephen Graham's Hollowbridge Farm in Co Down, Minister Poots confirmed that additional funding from the Executive would help mitigate falls in demand and prices for beef and dairy products during the COVID-19  lockdown.

The Minister said: “This cash injection is the most generous allocation made by any UK or EU administration for the agriculture sector during the Coronavirus emergency and reflects the deep and complex challenges the industry faces. We know that with falling demand and prices for beef and dairy products, many farm businesses have been amongst the hardest hit, so the funding I have secured will certainly go some way towards helping the sectors. This will be a lifeline for many businesses and reflects the Executive’s commitment to supporting the sectors.”

With the horticulture sector also facing challenges, the Minister vowed to monitor closely the impact on producers over the coming weeks.

He also welcomed the £3.8m allocation from the Executive to help cover higher waste collection, treatment and disposal costs in Councils. The funding will also support the additional costs of implementing social distancing measures and ensure that staff across councils are able to fulfil these crucial waste management roles in a safe manner.

It also emerged that 24,494 Single Applications were received by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs by midnight on 15 May 2020 despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

Minister Poots thanked farmers, agents and his own staff for working together to ensure that applications were received on time, despite the added operating difficulties due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

He said: “After stopping face to face interactions in DAERA Direct Offices on 25 March, my Department adapted rapidly and proactively to the changing circumstances to ensure farmers and agents continued to receive assistance when required.We enhanced our telephone advisory service, which enabled 1,190 farmers to provide their application over the phone. Our trained staff responded to more than 7,000 queries through webchats, emails, and telephone calls."

The Minister said the Department should be in position to issue full payments in October.

Farmers can, however, amend applications up to 9 June without incurring a penalty.

The £40 million NI Micro-business Hardship Fund opened to applications today, as of 6pm.

The grant scheme is targeted at businesses with one to nine employees facing immediate cash flow difficulties due to Covid-19 – this includes eligible social enterprises.

Economy Minister Dodds said: “The Hardship Fund will provide much-needed support to micro-businesses which have so far been unable to access other regional and national coronavirus support measures. This new fund should mean that over 40,000 businesses in Northern Ireland will have been eligible to apply for support under the Northern Ireland Covid-19 grant schemes.”

The funding is available to businesses unable to access the £10,000, £25,000 and Covid-19 Childcare Support grant schemes.

To be eligible, businesses must have experienced a reduction in turnover in excess of 40% since 1 March 2020 as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic or associated government restrictions. For eligible businesses which are social enterprises without charitable status, at least 60% of their revenue must come from trade in goods and/or services.

Temporary changes to pupil assessments and reporting requirements were also announced by the Education Minister Peter Weir.

Each year, schools are expected to produce a report for each pupil as well as statutory assessments at the end of each key stage.

The Minister also placed a temporary suspension on the collection of exams data, following the decision to cancel the summer 2020 examination series.

Minister Weir said: “During the current public health emergency I have been considering ways to ease the requirements on schools in relation to statutory assessment and school reporting arrangements. In these challenging times, it is not practicable for schools to spend the significant amount of time required to complete these detailed reports. Instead, I have decided that, this year, schools will not have to submit assessments. I am also introducing temporary modifications which will provide schools with a high level of discretion to decide what should be included in school reports. This will allow teachers time to continue their excellent work in providing distance learning to their pupils.”

Guidance will be published for schools on these new measures.

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:

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. A £100million 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 Department of Education’s Covid-19 page will be updated later today to enable applications from eligible substitute teachers: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/latest-department-education-updates-relation-covid-19-coronavirus

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.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

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

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