Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (29 April 2020)

Date published: 29 April 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

Health Minister Robin Swann and Justice Minister Naomi Long outlined today how contact between separated parents and their children can be adjusted during the Covid-19 restrictions.

Following fresh guidance from the Lord Chief Justice, parents who are concerned about the potential health risk to their children of moving between homes can agree temporary changes without going back to court.

All changes must be in keeping with the spirit of existing court orders and they may include contact taking place remotely by telephone or using online tools.

Minister Swann said: “Parents can continue to share care of their children but every family is different and I would encourage parents to work together to assess their particular circumstances.  Parents should consider the child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in homes children may be visiting.”

Minister Long added: “I understand that some parents will be concerned about how changes made to contact arrangements will impact on them and their children. I hope that, as set out in the guidance issued by the Lord Chief Justice, they are reassured that the court will consider the reasonableness of actions taken when considering future orders, and that parents may be able to make up time missed with their children.”

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon today launched a dedicated email address for helping members of the public with Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) queries during the Covid-19 emergency.

Acknowledging members of the public had been very patient when faced with rapid and significant change, Minister Mallon said: “While services remain suspended and restricted, I am pleased to announce this email service that will allow customers to come straight through to DVA staff to deal with their individual queries and concerns.

“Information continues to be provided regularly via nidirect but I recognise this is a fast moving picture and there are often many complexities facing drivers. This communication tool will provide a single point of contact and support for customers experiencing difficulties.”

Finance Minister Conor Murphy appealed to commercial landlords today to show leniency to tenants who are experiencing difficulty paying rent on commercial leases as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Following a call with the Federation of Small Businesses, Minister Murphy said: “My Department inserted a provision into the Coronavirus Act 2020 that protects commercial tenants in situations where non-payment of rent would normally enable a landlord to treat a lease as forfeited.

“I am disappointed to learn that some landlords are seeking to enforce a right of repossession or forfeiture of the lease for non-payment of rent. I accept this is a challenging time for everyone. However I would appeal to landlords to show leniency to businesses. We must work together to help businesses survive through this pandemic.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds commended Northern Ireland’s six further education colleges for supporting learners during the pandemic through virtual learning.

There have been around 50,000 online engagements with students, including apprentices, with learning available in subject areas as diverse as software development, engineering, hair and beauty, plumbing and languages.

Colleges have also continued to provide pastoral support to those who need it, while working to maximise access to remote learning for students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Minister Dodds said: “The speed at which the six FE colleges have moved to provide remote learning clearly displays high levels of commitment, leadership, agility, innovation and resourcefulness, by a well-skilled and experienced workforce.”

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. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  15. 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 seven days a week, 9am to 5pm.
  16. Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths
  17. 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
  18. 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.
  19. A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements
  20. 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
  21. Information on the full range of support for businesses during the Covid-19 emergency is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business
  22. The Department of Finance’s special provision in the Coronavirus Act applies to all business tenancies within the meaning of the Business Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and to any tenancy to which the Order would apply if any relevant occupier were the tenant. Section 83 that enables this protection, is part of the Coronavirus Bill 2020 and provides protection from forfeiture. This section establishes that where non-payment of rent enables a landlord to treat a lease as forfeited, that right cannot be exercised for a relevant period. The relevant period commenced on the date on which the Coronavirus Bill (now Act) obtained Royal Assent (25th March 2020) and will end on 30th June 2020—with a power for the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland to extend the period if it is needed. The territorial extent and application of this section is Northern Ireland only. England & Wales have taken similar protection. The special provision applies during the period from 25 March 2020 to 30 June 2020.
  23. The Lord Chief Justice’s guidance on contact arrangements for children of separated parents during the Covid-19 restrictions can be accessed at: https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19.
  24. The Driver and Vehicle Agency’s new customer email address is operational, with customers urged to send their queries to dva.customerservices@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk.
  25. Media enquiries should be directed to the relevant department using the following email addresses. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

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: 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

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