Daily Covid-19 Update From Executive

Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (7 April 2020).

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.