Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the last 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was formally agreed today between the Departments of Health in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to underpin and strengthen co-operation in the face of COVID-19.
The MOU, which was agreed by the Health Minister Robin Swann with his Irish Government counterpart Simon Harris and the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride with his Republic of Ireland counterpart Dr Tony Holohan, focuses on a number of areas of co-operation.
These include: public health messaging, research, programmes of behavioural change, ethics, evidence base/modelling, and public health and non-pharmaceutical measures. Other areas will be considered, such as procurement, where this is of mutual benefit.
Minister Swann visited Northern Ireland’s first Nightingale Hospital today, in the tower block of Belfast City Hospital, meeting staff.
During a tour of the facility, the Minister confirmed Northern Ireland’s health system has now increased the total number of mechanical ventilators in critical care to 197, with further substantial orders in place for more and for other devices capable of providing respiratory support.
The Driver and Vehicle Agency’s Boucher Road site became the first MOT centre to be used for COVID-19 testing.
The Boucher Road facility, which has been made available by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, is for healthcare workers only and is strictly by appointment.
The First Minister Arlene Foster, the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots briefed the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 response.
With the peak of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland anticipated between 6-20 April, the First Minister told MLAs the public health messages are more important than ever.
“Please stay at home as much as possible, observe social distancing in public and, where a member of a household starts to show symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate for 14 days,” she said.
The deputy First Minister expressed the Executive’s condolences to the families of 73 people who have lost so far their lives and also paid tribute to nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers.
“Each of us know someone from our family or community who works in our health service. I want you to know that we take huge pride in your professionalism, selflessness and courage and salute your fortitude and dignity in combating this deadly virus,” she said.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots directly raised concerns today with the leading supermarket chains about reports that a significant shipment of beef was imported into the UK from Poland at the start of the COVID-19 emergency.
Following a call involving the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and minsters from other devolved administrations, Minister Poots was told by the major retailers that they would make every effort to support the local supply chain, local farmers and their families and would encourage customers to buy local.
Northern Ireland’s further and higher education institutions have received praise for making an invaluable contribution to the fight against COVID-19.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Health Minister Robin Swann outlined the range of activity that has been undertaken by further education colleges and universities in support of the healthcare sector.
Minister Dodds revealed facial visors have been manufactured with 3D printers and laser cutting by the Southern Regional College, North West College and South West College, while Belfast Met is using the same technology to make personal protective equipment and South Eastern Regional Colllege has produced reusable face masks for care homes.
The decision of 500 final year medical students at Queen’s University and final year adult and mental health student nurses at Ulster University to join the health service frontline was welcomed by Minister Swann.
A team of researchers at Queen’s University has also been awarded a grant of almost £300,000 by the UK Government to contribute to research aimed at developing a vaccine, while Ulster University has made rooms available on its Magee campus to NHS workers who have not been able to go home between shifts.
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.
- Current information and advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on the PHA website at: 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.
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
- 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
- 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: 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
- More information about COVID-19 related announcements by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs can be accessed via: www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/daera-covid-19-q and https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-access-government-services
- Full details of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Health in Northern Ireland to strengthen and underpin north-south co-operation during the COVID-19 crisis, can be accessed via: www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/memorandum-understanding-covid-19-response-public-health-co-operation,
- Media enquiries to the TEO Press Office via email: Press.Office@executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
- Physical proof of status should be offered to EU citizens 15 September 2021
- Award success for Executive’s Covid public information campaign 13 September 2021
- Givan and O’Neill congratulate All-Ireland winners Tyrone 11 September 2021
- Appointment of Mr Justice Mark Horner to the NI Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) 08 September 2021