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Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (1 June 2020).

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Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (1 June 2020).

Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 72 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Members of the public who have been asked to shield will be able to spend time outside within another person provided the rate of Covid-19 infection does not rise, the Executive confirmed today.

During the Executive’s press conference on Covid-19, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced people with underlying health conditions may be able to go outside from June 8 with a person from their own home or another household, provided social distancing is observed.

First Minister Foster said: “It is important to stress that the virus still presents a high risk to anyone in an extremely vulnerable group and the advice remains that staying at home is the best way to prevent infection. However, with the level of infection in the community falling, the risk of exposure is significantly less than it has been over the last two months. 

“Therefore, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific adviser, we can advise that from next Monday (8 June), those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with people from their own household or a person from another household whilst ensuring social distancing is observed.  

“We believe this is a reasonable and proportionate first step.  People who are shielding will receive a letter with further advice in the coming days. Furthermore, throughout June we will continue to monitor the progress of the virus. If the rate of transmission continues on a downward trend, then, in consultation with our scientific and medical advisors, we will consider further relaxations for those who are shielding.”

Deputy First Minister O’Neill added: “Whilst the safest place for those of you shielding is still at home, from next week you will be able to meet outdoors with people from the same household or one person from another household but it is crucially important you are strict about maintaining social distancing.

“The advice from our scientists and medics is that exposure to the virus has significantly reduced. However, those of you shielding are still very vulnerable to the effect of this disease.

“You have come this far, so make sure you protect yourself as best you can until we are out the other side of this. You will be updated with any new information and advice before the current shielding ends.”

The First Minister and the deputy First Minister also moved to clarify that people aged over 70 do not fall into the same category as those shielding but were still regarded as a vulnerable group.

Over 70s are advised to be particularly strict when observing social distancing guidance.

Health Minister Robin Swann today outlined the central role testing and contact tracing will play in unlocking the Covid-19 restrictions over the coming weeks and months.

Under the Department’s Test, Trace and Protect Strategy, everyone from over the age of five exhibiting symptoms of the Coronavirus will now be eligible for testing which can be booked by phoning 119 or through the website: nhs.uk/coronavirus.

Four drive through test centres are operating in Belfast, Derry~Londonderry, Craigavon and Enniskillen and self-test kits may also be dispatched via the post.

Nurses, Environmental Health Officers and other professional staff are being recruited to the contact tracing teams to work alongside trained volunteers.

A call centre will also be created to provide general information to symptomatic individuals and their contacts and digital tools are also being developed to complement telephone-based contract tracing.

Minister Swann explained: “Test, Trace and Protect will help release the lockdown, keep people safe and protect our health service. Everyone has to play their part.

“That means getting tested early when we have symptoms, helping contact tracing by providing details of contacts, and self-isolating when advised in order to protect others.”

Anyone with a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in their sense of smell or taste is asked to immediately report these symptoms and book a test.

Hotels and other tourist accommodation may reopen from 20 July provided the rate of Covid-19 transmission is under control, Economy Minister Diane Dodds confirmed today.

Provided the rate of transmission is not too high, Executive Ministers agreed the key dates for re-opening tourist accommodation are:

  • 20 July 2020 – holiday and home parks; caravan sites; self-catering properties. As they are self-contained and may require less advance notice before opening, the opening times for these types of accommodation may be advanced to earlier than 20 July depending on scientific advice;
  • 20 July 2020 – guesthouses; guest accommodation; B&Bs; hotels; hostels. The Tourism Steering Group will be asked to work with the sector to explore what facilities and amenities can safely be made available by hotels and recommendations will be brought to the Executive in due course.

Minister Dodds observed: “Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for our tourism industry, as it has for tourism markets around the world.

“I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates. I want to build upon the positive progress in managing the spread of the virus and begin to re-open our tourism industry in a safe and managed way.

“These dates are conditional on the continued containment of the spread of Covid-19.”

Further work is under way to assess the potential to re-open pubs and restaurants and all other parts of the tourism sector.

The Tourism Recovery Steering Group, which the Minister chairs, and its supporting Working Group, is examining how relevant UK safe working guidance for the tourism sector can be tailored to the industry in Northern Ireland.

One of the world’s longest running surveys is to be conducted completely online because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots revealed today.

The annual Agricultural and Horticultural Census has been collated since 1847 but will be completed over a four week period entirely online, for the first time in its history, with a deadline of Tuesday, 30 June.

Minister Poots admitted: “Covid-19 has caused us to rethink how we do things and find new ways of gathering information about the farming sector. Farmers are already under pressure with the current crisis, so in moving the survey online, we aim to make its completion easier and quicker.

“The survey has been compiled since 1847and is an extremely important tool to assess trends across the agriculture and horticulture sectors – including how many people work in the industry, how many livestock there are, where farms are located, how do sub-sectors such dairy, beef, pork, poultry and cereals compare. Last year’s survey highlighted some interesting facts:

  • There are 24,827 farm businesses in Northern Ireland.
  • For every person in Northern Ireland there are 14 chickens, one cow, one sheep and a third of a pig.
  • There are 48,423 farm workers in Northern Ireland (including farmers and their spouses.)
  • Most farms involved in livestock production with 93% assigned to a livestock type.
  • 10% were classified as dairy farms and 79% as cattle and sheep farms.
  • Grass accounted for almost 80% of all area farmed.

“We use all this information to help form many of my Department’s decisions and policies on supporting Northern Ireland’s farming industry. It’s therefore very important for people to fill in the survey and help us understand how and where to direct resources.”

As ever, all the information collected during the census will be treated in a completely confidential manner. As an additional security feature within the online format of the survey, each of Northern Ireland’s farm businesses will also be provided with a unique five-digit code to safeguard identity when logging into the service.

At the start of Volunteers’ Week, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey praised the contributions that thousands of people have made to their communities, especially during the Covid-19 emergency.

With Volunteers Week running from 1-7 June, the Minister said the current health crisis had shone a light on the valuable contribution volunteers make to society.

Minister Hargey said:  “The current health pandemic gripping almost every country in the world has demonstrated the value of volunteering. 

“I am truly heartened by the generosity and wonderful sense of community on display in every corner of our society where people from all walks of life stepped forward to help.

“Everyone has a vital part to play, those who have got involved in compassionate, creative and meaningful ways delivering food for others, collecting and delivering essential items from pharmacies so that the most vulnerable can be protected, and those who provide telephone support that reassures people confined to their home, I say a big ‘Thank You’. 

“We are fortunate that a strong sense of community prevails despite the changing pace of life.  Acts of kindness by our volunteers help create successful, strong, vibrant and prosperous communities which makes for a better place to live and work.”