Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (24 June 2020)

Date published: 24 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.

A new group has been formed to identify key learnings from the experiences of care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Minister Robin Swann revealed today.

The Rapid Learning Initiative has representatives drawn from the independent care home sector, the Health and Social Care system and the Royal College of Nursing and will be chaired by the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer Linda Kelly.

Acknowledging that Covid-19 had hit the sector very hard, Minister Swann said: “This will help us understand what our health and social care system needs to do ahead of any future wave. I know that this virus has taken its toll on residents, families, staff and care home providers. I would encourage as many people as possible to take part in this process. For those of you who have been on the frontline, your experiences are critical in informing the learning. For residents and your families, it’s important that we capture and learn from your perspectives.”

Paying tribute to the commitment, dedication and professionalism of care home staff, the Minister stressed the Rapid Learning Initiative was not a research project, an investigation or an inquiry but was a collaboration between statutory bodies, the care home sector and the nursing profession to identify learnings that could be taken forward in the short term.

Education Minister Peter Weir today published information on the childcare recovery plan and Education Restart programme to help schools prepare for the return of their first cohort of pupils in August.

The information, published in a question and answer format on the Department of Education’s website, provides an initial outline of both programmes and will be updated to address additional issues as and when they arise.

The childcare recovery plan aims to restore the sector to pre-Covid-19 capacity levels as quickly as possible, while the Education Restart programme identifies six priority work-streams to deliver the reopening of schools.

Minister Weir said: “Both the childcare recovery plan and the Education Restart Programme are important starting points in the journey to reopening schools. We realise there is a lot of new information regarding both schemes and have provided today’s FAQs to enable parents, childcare and educational settings to access the details they may need as easily as possible. This information is by no means exhaustive and we will be adding to the FAQs as and when the need arises.”

Co-Ownership housing received a £10million boost from Communities Minister Carál Chuilín to enable it to reopen to new customers.

Co-Ownership is the Department’s main delivery partner for affordable housing, offering people the opportunity to enter home ownership through its products Co-Own and Rent to Own.

However the processing of new applications was paused on 24 March 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Minister Chuilín said: “Co-Ownership, through support from the Department, has assisted over 29,000 people to own their own home.  It has increased the opportunities for many including first time-buyers, and those returning to the market, who are in employment, but cannot access sufficient housing finance in the mortgage market. This £10m investment from my Department will enable the scheme to open again to new customers who are interested in exploring Co-Ownership as a route to home ownership.”

The publication of new guidance to enable the tourism and hospitality sectors to open as safely as possible was welcomed by the Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

The Executive had announced that, depending on the rate of infection, caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation may re-open on 26 June. 

Hotels and other tourist accommodation may re-open from 3 July along with restaurants, cafés and coffee shops.

Pubs and bars may open from July 3 for the provision of food and open their beer gardens on a table service basis.

With a new industry standard and consumer mark being developed in conjunction with UK tourism boards, Minister Dodds said the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sectors was essential to the rebuilding of the economy.

The Minister added: “However, the application of social distancing and hygiene practices is vital. We must ensure the transmission of the virus is minimised and we need to reassure customers, employees and visitors that establishments are as Covid-19 safe as possible. That is why the publication of this guidance is so important. It is the responsibility of businesses to read it and apply it. It is also the responsibility on all of us as visitors and customers to play our part in tackling the pandemic and to behave responsibly.“It is also reassuring for customers that an industry standard will be established to show the guidance has been adopted.”

The guidance – entitled Working Safely During Covid-19 in the Visitor Economy – is aimed at business owners, operators and workers in hotels and other tourist accommodation, indoor and outdoor attractions and experiences, hospitality businesses including restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced an £800,000 Environmental Challenge Fund Competition, to support environmental projects across Northern Ireland.

Not-for-profit organisations and councils may apply to the fund to deliver key environmental priorities across Northern Ireland.

It is envisaged the majority of grant awards will be between £20,000 and £50,000 and that the maximum amount of Government funding available under the competition will be 75% of eligible project costs.

At the launch of the competition at Slievenacloy in the Belfast Hills, Minister Poots observed: “The impact of Covid-19, alongside the difficult financial climate, means this is a great opportunity to support the work of local organisations who are passionate about improving the environment. The Fund enables environmental not-for-profit organisations to focus on the areas of environmental protection, improvement and monitoring of habitats and species; the quality of fresh and coastal waters and air; promotion of health, well-being, understanding, appreciation and action for the environment and access to the natural environment.  It will help us to continue to deliver DAERA’s strategic aims and those in the Programme for Government.”

There are two key areas for funding under the competition:

  1. Nature Recovery: Building ecological and climate resilience
  2. Peatland (blanket bog, lowland raised bog, heathlands) climate change mitigation/adaptation measures;
  3. Blue carbon habitat (saltmarsh, seagrass, kelp, shellfish beds etc.) climate change mitigation/adaptation measures
  4. Nature Recovery Networks; and
  5. Capital purchases essential for conservation.

2.  Outdoor Recreation and Connecting People with the Environment:

  • Delivery of core path networks and strategic routes;
  • Provision of recreation infrastructure; and
  • Delivery of outdoor recreation data products essential to underpin decision making and action and information provision.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list
  25. More information on the Rapid Leaning Initiative for the care home sector can be found at: www.health-ni.gov.uk/rapid-learning-initiative
  26. The Department of Education’s Childcare Recovery Plan FAQs can be accessed via the following link: www.education-ni.gov.uk/faqs-childcare-recovery-plans-24-june-2020 and the Education Restart Programme FAQs can be accessed via this link: www.education-ni.gov.uk/faqs-education-restart-programme-24-june-2020
  27. Anyone interested in finding out more about Co-Ownership housing can visit co-ownership.org or call 028 9032 7276. More information on the two main products, Co-Own and Rent to Own are also available on the website.
  28. Further information, including guidance notes and details of how you can apply to the Environmental Challenge Fund, can be found on the DAERA website at www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/environment-fund.  The closing date for applications is noon on Tuesday 28 July 2020.
  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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