Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (22 June 2020)

Date published: 22 June 2020

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.

Groups of up to six people will be allowed to meet other people indoors from tomorrow (23 June), First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed today.

The move was approved by ministers at today’s Executive meeting, along with more relaxations for those people shielding during the COVID-19 lockdown because of underlying health conditions.

First Minister Foster told the Executive press briefing today: “This afternoon the Executive agreed that groups of up to six people, not from the same household, will be able to meet indoors from tomorrow. It is recommended that social distancing should still be maintained, along with other mitigations such as ventilation and good hand hygiene. The Executive has wanted to promote family friendly arrangements and this will also be of assistance in relation to informal childcare.”

Deputy First Minister O’Neill added: “This is very positive news and another step in the right direction that will no doubt be welcomed by many. We should point out that this easement comes with strong health advice. People should still keep as much distance as possible between themselves and others who are not part of their household. Visits should be kept short, where possible. We should continue to be meticulous in washing our hands. You are also advised to wear face coverings and should make every effort to make sure the environment is well ventilated.”

Health Minister Robin Swann also announced today that from 6 July, those people required to shield will be able to meet up to six people outside their homes, as long as social distancing is strictly maintained.

In addition, people living alone and shielding can form a support bubble from July 6 with one other household.

With fresh guidance letters due to be issued to those impacted, Minister Swann observed: “It has undoubtedly been extremely difficult for those who are shielding. I have listened with great sympathy to what people have told us about feeling isolated and how they have missed their loved ones. I know these easements that take effect on 6 July will be welcome news to many as we move towards the pause in shielding from the end of July. However, I am also very conscious that there will be some who are apprehensive about this change.  I would therefore, once again, repeat my call to everyone to continue to observe social distancing and to be considerate of the fact that the people you meet may have been shielding for many weeks.”

People shielding alone and forming a support bubble are not required to implement social distancing with their designated people and can allow them to visit, stay over and spend more time with them.

The second household can be of any size. Both households should not be part of more than one bubble and should continue to socially distance outside their bubble.

It was also confirmed by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon that there will be a phased return of MOT and driver testing services in the coming weeks,

The Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) is planning from 20 July to resume MOT testing for priority vehicle groups, including those vehicles unable to avail of Temporary Exemption Certificates (TECs).

These include taxis and buses due a first time test; vehicles not previously registered in Northern Ireland; vehicles with MOTs that have expired by more than 12 months, including vehicles previously declared SORN and those sold by car dealerships. 

MOT testing for other vehicles such as four year old cars and motorbikes, three year old light goods vehicles and testing of heavy goods vehicles, trailers and buses are due to commence in August, with an exact date confirmed once the demand for the initial priority groups has been addressed.

Customers will be sent reminder letters with details of how to book a test at the appropriate time.

Minister Mallon also revealed plans to reinstate some driver testing services in July for those licence categories where testing can be done safely in line with Public Health Agency advice on social distancing requirements.

This includes motorbike driver testing, planned from 6 July, and tests for drivers of buses, tractors and module 4 CPC tests for lorry, bus and coach drivers, planned from 20 July.

However, driver theory tests will remain suspended, as DVA officials continue to consult colleagues in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency on when the service might resume.

The Minister said: “I will continue to keep other DVA services under review in line with the latest public health advice and following important consultation with staff and unions.  I have made it clear that all services, except those in MOT centres currently being used as Covid-19 testing centres, will resume as soon as it is safe to do so and I will provide further updates in the coming weeks. Covid-19 has caused unprecedented difficulties for all of us and I thank our customers for their patience at this very challenging time.”

With just over a week to go until the deadline to complete the annual Agricultural and Horticultural Census, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots issued another appeal to participants to complete the survey online.

One of the oldest surveys of its type in the world, dating back to 1847, the census for the first time is being conducted totally online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in a bid to ease the pressure on farming businesses.

Minister Poots reported the response rate so far to the online census, which helps inform farming policy, has been the highest since the digital option became available in 2003.

Noting the census takes less than 15 minutes to fill in, he urged farmers who had not yet completed it online to do so and added: “This year's deadline to fill in the annual survey is 30 June. I want to sincerely thank those who have already taken the time to complete the digital version of the census and encourage everyone to take part in the survey. However, if you are unable to complete the census in this way then please email DAERAsurveys@daera-ni.gov.uk or call 0300 200 7840 and ask for your local DAERA Direct Office for assistance. Similarly, if you have not already received your unique five-digit code to help you complete the form then again contact DAERA through the above details and a member of the Farm Census team will contact you as soon as possible."

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. Comprehensive advice and guidance to customers on DVA services is regularly updated on nidirect at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-and-motoring. A telephone booking line will be open from 1 July for customers in the priority groups to arrange an appointment for an MOT test or motorcycle test. Online booking will not be available for this phase.  Balmoral and Newtownards test centres remain in use by the Department of Health for Covid-19 related testing and are therefore not available.
  27. MOT testing for all other vehicles not in the priority groups remains suspended in the interest of public safety. For eligible vehicles, automatic 12 month Temporary Exemption Certificates (TECs) will continue to be applied from the date the MOT was due and customers do not need to take any action. Separate arrangements are already in place for taxis and buses, allowing vehicle licences to be renewed without the requirement for prior testing. Details of vehicles eligible for a 12 month TEC are available here https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-and-motoring.
  28. To access the annual DAERA Agricultural and Horticultural Census online, please visit: daera-surveys.researchfeedback.net/7ez453, use your unique five-digit code and complete details as requested. Not only will this provide a faster service but in this time of crisis help maintain public health. Whilst the deadline for completion of the online census is 30 June, the Farm Census team will make follow-up phone calls to some farm businesses throughout the summer in an attempt to gain as much information as possible to inform future Departmental policy and financial assistance. As with the census itself, these conversations will be carried out in a totally confidential manner.
  29. 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

30. 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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