Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (26 May 2020)

Date published: 26 May 2020

Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 96 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Covid-19 Executive Update
Covid-19 Executive Update

The decline in the number of fatal COVID-19 cases in Northern Ireland provides no grounds for complacency in the battle to suppress the Coronavirus, Health Minister Robin Swann insisted today.

As Northern Ireland recorded zero deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, Minister Swann stressed members of the public still needed to closely follow the public health guidelines.

The Minister told the daily press conference at Stormont: “A second wave of the virus is widely expected in the months ahead, so we must keep fighting back. We must keep our defences up at all times because actions have consequences. Don’t let someone you love or someone you don’t know suffer the consequences of your actions.”

Minister Swann observed the battle against COVID-19 had moved onto a new, more complex phase which wasn’t simply about urging people to stay at home.

While staying at home was a still big part of the public health response, he noted the relaxation of some restrictions posed a challenge to citizens to act responsibly.

The Minister argued: “We must not forget the basics - the fundamental ways of keeping ourselves and others safe. Keep your distance. Stay two metres apart. Wash your hands. If people get it into their heads that this emergency is over, the consequences will be catastrophic. The progress made over recent months will be swiftly undone and we will have to move back to a tighter lockdown. So think before you act. You have more discretion now, so use it sensibly and safely.”

Minister Swann announced that a fourth testing site for COVID-19 will open later this week in Enniskillen and he also welcomed the announcement that the anti-viral drug Remdesivir will be made available for the treatment of the disease.

With international studies showing the drug can shorten recovery time from COVID-19 by about four days, the drug will be available to patients who meet certain clinical criteria to support their recovery in hospital. Health Trusts will be able to apply for access to the treatment for eligible patients.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots announced a £360,000 emergency support package for Northern Ireland’s aquaculture sector.

The package aims to help businesses that have experienced a significant drop in sales during the pandemic.

Announcing the emergency support during a visit to Movanagher Fish Farm in Ballymoney, Minister Poots said: “The aim of the emergency package is to help this sector to continue its work in growing, harvesting, shipping and delivering to customers all over the world and help the sector to be sustainable and profitable in the long term. This funding will help those businesses most at risk of financial ruin to survive this difficult period. My Department will inform business owners about the full details of the scheme and how to apply in due course.”

The aquaculture sector is a small but valuable niche market in Northern Ireland, employing around 131 people and supporting rural communities. The scheme aims to assist producers of species like oysters and trout. 

The support fund of up to £360,000 will be in the form of a grant payment, covering the three month period 1 March to 31 May 2020 and will be based on the income lost from sales of aquaculture products due to COVID-19.  Average monthly sales over the past three years for each business will be used as the baseline.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced plans to extend driving licences for an additional seven months from their expiry date.

With a new EU Regulation due to become law within days, she confirmed all driving licences with an expiry date between 1 February and 31 August 2020 will be treated as valid for a further seven months – removing the requirement to have a medical assessment conducted at this difficult time.

The extension will be automatically applied and new licences will not be issued during this period.

Minister Mallon explained:  “I understand that for many people at this time in particular, having a valid licence allowing them to drive for essential journeys or to ensure they can continue to work, is vital.   This new EU Regulation provides a practical solution to a very real problem and ensures that those in this situation can remain on the road without having to worry about getting a renewal application processed, which for some requires a medical assessment. It will also help any customers who could not access or were finding it difficult to renew their licence online. Road safety is my key priority and I would therefore remind all drivers that they have a responsibility to notify the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) if they have a new or worsening medical condition or disability that may affect their ability to drive.”

While the extension could not be applied to taxi licences, the Minister confirmed those in the profession without a medical condition would have their five year licence renewed without a medical report – although they may be asked to submit a medical report at some future date.

She also vowed to do everything she could to ensure those taxi drivers with a medical condition would be prioritised for medical appointments and licence renewal and asked drivers in this situation to contact the DVA directly so it could be addressed as quickly as possible.

Eight pupils from post-primary schools across Northern Ireland took part in a virtual press conference this morning with the Education Minister Peter Weir.

Pupils from Magherafelt High School, Fivemiletown College, Arvalee Special School in Omagh, Banbridge Academy, St Malachy's College, Belfast, Holy Cross College, Strabane, Our Lady & St Patrick's College, Belfast and Strangford Integrated College for the chance to put questions directly to the Minister on COVID-19 and its implications for the education sector.     

The questions covered a range of issues including examinations, mental health, transport and plans for schools reopening.

Minister Weir commented afterwards: “I was highly impressed this morning by both the range and depth of questioning. In fact we may have some future political journalists in the making. This is the first virtual press conference with students and, given its success today, I intend to hold further press conferences using this format whilst social distancing prevents face-to-face meetings. I want to thank the principals who helped make this press conference happen and for their continuing work in coordinating remote learning and preparing for the reopening of schools after the summer term.”

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: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWFhZDgzZDYtMTE4Yi00MTBjLWIzYmQtMTZhYzc1MGEyMTk1IiwidCI6IjljOWEzMGRlLWQ4ZDctNGFhNC05NjAwLTRiZTc2MjVmZjZjNSIsImMiOjh9.
  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 £100m 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. 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.  The DVA’s online driving licence renewal service will be updated to include information on driving licence extension periods.  Any renewal applications received by post will be returned to the customer with advice provided on extension periods.  DVA will send out renewal notices to customers, approximately two months before their new driving licence expiry date.  
  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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