Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (8 July 2020)

Date published: 08 July 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.

Children and young people who have not had access to digital technology during lockdown are to be given the opportunity to avail of free wi-fi and mobile connectivity for learning, Education Minister Peter Weir announced today.

Up to 2,500 MI-FI devices for children not within a BT wi-fi hotspot and 8,300 wi-fi vouchers for disadvantaged children are to be provided under the scheme which the Department of Education has devised along with the telecoms company and the Education Authority.

Minister Weir said: “In May, I outlined proposals to lend digital devices such as laptops to those children who would benefit most in terms of supporting their learning. A key element of this scheme was to ensure that pupils who did not have access to the internet were able to use the digital devices for online learning.  My officials have been working with the Education Authority to progress this issue as quickly as possible. I am pleased to announce that BT is assisting us to provide a range of solutions to address connectivity problems for those pupils.”

It is anticipated the wi-fi scheme will run for up to eight months for eligible pupils from the middle of August.

Priority will be given during the distribution of devices to children in year groups: 11, 13, 6 and 3 in this order; and to those pupils who receive free school meals, have special educational needs or from newcomer target groups including: asylum seeker, refugee and Roma children.

Looked after children and children considered vulnerable, as well as rurality will also be taken into account. 

Driving tests for certain categories of drivers are to be reinstated this month in accordance with public health guidance on physical distancing, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirmed.

Motorbike driving tests resumed from Monday (6 July), with tests for drivers of buses, tractors and module 4 CPC tests for lorry, bus and coach drivers due to return from 20 July.

Driver theory tests were also reintroduced from Monday, with measures to ensure safe social distancing in place.

Minister Mallon said: “The DVA continues to work on proposals to safely resume practical driving tests for cars and lorries as soon as possible. While a date for the resumption of these services has not yet been confirmed, this legislative change is a step forward for drivers who have already passed their theory test and are keen to take their practical driving test.  My Department continues to work at pace to find solutions to ensure the safe resumption of all services, working in partnership with staff and the unions.  I will continue to keep the public updated during this changing and challenging time.”

The Minister also revealed the validity of theory test pass certificates for learner drivers will be extended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Test certificates that expire between 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2020 will be extended by eight months and off-road motorcycle test pass certificates which expire between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 will be extended by six months. 

The Minister said: “This legislative change will come into effect in September 2020 and will be applied retrospectively.  It will benefit over 1,300 people.”

Finance Minister Conor Murphy joined forces with his Scottish and Welsh counterparts to call on the UK Government to ease the restrictions on the devolved administrations’ budgets that would allow them to respond more effectively to Covid-19 challenges.

Ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s Summer Statement, Conor Murphy, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes and Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans called for assurances that will give them the freedom to switch capital funding to day-to-day revenue and put an end to the arbitrary limits on borrowing.

Minister Murphy said: “It is crucial that the Devolved Administrations are equipped to respond swiftly and effectively to the challenges arising from Covid. More financial flexibility can help us deal with these challenges and use our budgets to support public services, protect the vulnerable, and deliver an economic recovery.”

There will be fewer on-farm inspections for the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots announced.

In a bid to protect farmers and Departmental staff, the Minister said the exceptional measure was required to reduce the potential for Covid-19 to spread.

Minister Poots explained: “In these exceptional circumstances we all need to play our part and adhere to social distancing measures to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.  I have, therefore, decided to reduce the number of inspections to be carried out by my Department as part of the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme year. To further reduce non-essential travel, I have introduced legislation to allow the use of alternatives to an on-farm visit where possible.  I believe these additional measures will help reduce the burden on our farms during a very difficult year.”

Under the new arrangements:

  • Basic Payment Scheme inspections will be reduced from 3% to 1%
  • Greening inspections will be reduced from 5% to 3%
  • Environment Farming Scheme inspections will be reduced from 10% to 5%.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced details of a free Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) in Operations and Supply Chain Management for people whose career has been impacted by Covid-19.

A total of 100 fully funded places are available for the part-time PgCert with Queen’s University Belfast. The course starts in August and is open to people who have a 2:2 honours degree in any subject or appropriate work experience.

Urging those eligible for the PgCert course to apply, Minister Dodds said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for people with degrees in any subject, or appropriate work experience, and whose careers have been affected by the pandemic, to study, at no cost, in a growth area and potentially secure employment in the future. Queen’s University will deliver the learning ‘virtually’ and participants who complete the course will be strongly positioned to compete for roles in this growing sector, or choose to go on and study for a Master's. This investment follows my Department’s funding of a postgraduate certificate in software development at Queen’s. This opportunity was very popular and I am pleased that we were able to expand it from 100 to 150 fully funded places.”

Applications for the PgCert in Operations and Supply Chain Management part-time course are being accepted now and the closing date for applications is 24 July.

The course will run from 17 August to 30 November 2020.

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. The latest update on Covid-19 is also available at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/COVID%20update%20for%20Executive%2008%20June.pdf
  6. 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 and should book a test immediately by phoning 119 or through the website nhs.uk/coronavirus. Tests are available for everyone over the age of five.
  7. The ‘Test, Trace and Protect’ strategy can be accessed via:  https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/Test-Trace-Protect-Support-Strategy.pdf
  8. The Department of Health NI’s Covid-19 NI information app provides 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.
  9. A Covid-19 statistical dashboard can also be viewed on the Department of Health’s website at: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWFhZDgzZDYtMTE4Yi00MTBjLWIzYmQtMTZhYzc1MGEyMTk1IiwidCI6IjljOWEzMGRlLWQ4ZDctNGFhNC05NjAwLTRiZTc2MjVmZjZjNSIsImMiOjh9.
  10. 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.
  11. Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
  17. 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.
  18. Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
  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 Covid-19 related support for businesses is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business.
  22. The ‘Charting a course for the economy: our first steps’ paper can be accessed at: www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/charting-course-economy
  23. Workplace safety guidance for Northern Ireland businesses is available at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list
  24. Under the Department of Education’s wifi and digital technology programme for disadvantaged pupils, schools using the agreed criteria can identify pupils who do not have access to wi-fi and can make a request through the C2K Exchange. The Education Authority will verify the data submitted and work with schools to determine allocation.
  25. For more information on the postgraduate certificate in supply chain and operations management, and to apply, visit: www.qub.ac.uk/Study/operations-supply-chain-management
  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: 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. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.

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