Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (30 April 2020)

Date published: 30 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

Economy Minister Diane Dodds today confirmed small businesses occupying rental property can avail of the £10,000 Small Business Support Grant Scheme during the Covid-19 lockdown.

As a new online form for businesses occupying rental properties went live on the nibusinessinfo website, Minister Dodds said: “I am pleased to confirm that small businesses that occupy a rental property can now apply for the £10,000 grant scheme. I have taken this step so that the small business that occupies a rental property, and not the landlord or managing agent who is responsible for paying the rates, will benefit.”

To date 18,508 payments have been issued to companies under the scheme.

The Minister also disclosed that the first payments had been made under the £25,000 grant scheme for businesses in the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors.

Applications for both schemes are due to close on 20 May 2020

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots announced further measures to enable more TB herd tests to be completed safely on farms during the Covid-19 emergency.

From 4 May 2020, calves under 180 days old may be exempt from all bovine TB (bTB) herd test types if they cannot be tested safely in accordance with the latest Public Health Agency guidance on social distancing to allow more herd tests to proceed safely.

Minister Poots said: “This will facilitate more testing of older cattle, where herd tests can proceed safely, and will help to maintain the vital TB surveillance programme during the Covid-19 crisis. Herds with clear tests will retain or regain their Officially TB Free (OTF) status and can trade freely with the exception of untested calves aged between 42 and 180 days.”

In order to protect animal health and Northern Ireland’s international trading position, untested calves will be restricted and cannot be traded until or unless they can be tested safely with a negative result. This measure will be kept under review.

The Minister also announced some additional temporary measures which will ensure:

  • Herds restricted for overdue tests will be allowed to purchase in cattle;
  • Herds will not be automatically associated when cattle are permitted to move, on welfare grounds, from one TB restricted herd to another restricted herd;
  • The requirement for herds, that haven’t been tested for 15 months, to complete two herd tests before regaining OTF status is being withdrawn as a temporary measure;
  • Where a vet practice is not carrying out any bTB tests, the farmer can contact their local Divisional Veterinary Office (DVO) to request change of vet.  Once the DVO confirms the situation with the veterinary practice, the test can be re-assigned to the DVO or another practice.
  • The number of TB letters sent to farmers will be reduced by streamlining the current communications.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon paid tribute to the British Medical Association (BMA) for their help in ensuring key workers requiring medical assessments can have their driving licences renewed.

Following a call today with BMA NI GP chair Dr Alan Stout, Minister Mallon said: “I am indebted to the BMA and the GPs they represent for agreeing to support and prioritise the processing of medical forms for those key workers who need them to renew their licences.

“At this time of great challenge, our health workers are the backbone of the fight against Covid-19. GPs are on the frontline giving us the care we need and they are supporting us in ensuring that our key workers are able to get to and from work using their own vehicles.

“Many of these key workers may be doctors and nurses, ambulance staff or those driving lorries to secure the delivery of food, goods and medical supplies. This is further evidence of how partnership working is key to ensuring we get through this crisis together.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey sounded a warning to local councils that she will not support any moves by them that undermine workers’ rights.

Minister Hargey was responding to reports that some councils have decided to lay off staff in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Urging them to exhaust all options to protect workers’ rights and safeguard jobs, the Minister said: “My officials have been working closely with councils to understand the full level of their lost income, the additional costs they have incurred in relation to the pandemic, and the extent to which they can manage the situation by making use of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme.

“During this crisis, more than ever before, we need to show solidarity with workers across the public, private and third sectors.  I call on councils, and other employers to do all in their power to safeguard jobs so that, when the current restrictions are lifted, those very workers can contribute to the economic recovery that we will so badly need.”

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. The online application form for small businesses that rent premises is available at: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/RentalPropertiesandNAVBelow1590  
  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. Further information on Bovine Tuberculosis testing in cattle during Covid-19 can be obtained at http://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/testing-bovine-tuberculosis-during-covid-19-pandemic
  24. 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.

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