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.
Ministers gave their approval today to more Covid-19 restrictions being lifted on June 8, provided the R rate of infection remains at or below the current level of 0.9.
After the third statutory review of the Coronavirus regulations, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill revealed at the daily Executive press conference that, depending on the transmission rate, the following relaxations would be allowed:
- People will be permitted to leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of their pet or non-farm animals.
- Outdoor marriages and civil partnership ceremonies will be allowed, with number of people attending limited to 10.
- Outdoor sports courts will be permitted to reopen.
- The conduct of business by outdoor non-food retailers will be permitted, including new and used car retailers; retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries/trailers; retailers of caravans or motorhomes, and retailers of agricultural or other large machinery.
- The conduct of business by non-food retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits and / or with a greater propensity for larger store areas, will be permitted such as stores selling electrical goods, mobile phones, computer, furniture and furnishings. But only where those outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park and where they can accommodate social distancing.
Ministers also agreed to amend the regulations to allow hotels to take advance bookings in preparation for when they can accept guests. While the Executive is not yet in a position to provide an indicative date for reopening, Ministers will give the matter further consideration and provide an update next week.
Urging citizens to continue to follow the public health advice and abide by the remaining restrictions, First Minister Foster said: “As the Executive cautiously plots our path back towards normality, we must remain cautious about the spread of the virus. After all, we have not seen the full impact of recently-introduced relaxations. All the measures we have outlined will be introduced from the week beginning 8 June, provided that the R value does not increase above 0.9. As I indicated last week, if people act in line with the restrictions, the more likely the R rate will improve - resulting in more relaxations. If they don’t, we will not be able to do more.”
Reminding members of the public that their actions will determine how the Coronavirus spreads in the coming weeks, deputy First Minister O’Neill argued: “The actions of the public managed to drive the R rate below 1. We need to keep driving it down in the days and weeks ahead. As we go forward with the hope that a vaccine will be found and as medical and scientific researchers work at a breakneck speed in this global effort, social distancing is going to be key. However anyone who is flouting the regulations or the restrictions or is now choosing to ignore the public health advice could actually be extending lockdown for all of us.”
Following the publication of new figures on patient waiting times, Health Minister Robin Swann warned today that Covid-19 will continue to impact the provision of health services.
Describing the figures as very disappointing but not unexpected, Minister Swann stated: “Successfully attacking these waiting times will take time and money, and can only be achieved if additional long term funding is made available – such funding must be over and above that needed to run existing services. I have been very clear on this point since taking up post. Even with significant additional investment, the task of putting this right will be immensely challenging.”
The Minister said with health chiefs having to plan for the continuing threat posed by Covid-19, the need to adapt to the presence of the Coronavirus would continue to severely limit the capacity of hospitals to scale up their activity, as they responded to the need to enforce social distancing with reduced numbers in waiting rooms and addressed its impact on theatre lists.
He acknowledged: “We have started the process of re-building our health and social care system – and it is essential that our emphasis is ‘rebuilding’ rather than ‘restoring’. The truth is that our health service will never be the same again – the challenge for us is to make that reality an opportunity rather than a threat. The way we use services will have to change and innovations like virtual clinics will increasingly become the norm. We must capture the lessons and innovation from our response to Coronavirus, and seek to build on the ingenuity and flexibility of the wonderful workforce across Health and Social Care.”
Notes to editors:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
- 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.
- 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.
- Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
- The Freephone COVID-19 Community Helpline can be accessed by telephone on 0808 802 0020; email firstname.lastname@example.org or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
- Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
- 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.
- A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements.
- 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.
- The online application form for small businesses that rent premises is available at: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/RentalPropertiesandNAVBelow1590.
- 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.
- 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
- The latest health service waiting list statistics are available via: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/topics/dhssps-statistics-and-research/hospital-waiting-times-statistics.
- 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: email@example.com
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
26. For out of office hours media queries, contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
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