Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus (29 May 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.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds today published an outline plan for the recovery of the economy as it emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown.
Under the plan, the implementation of which will be guided by the latest scientific and medical advice, the economy will be helped to get moving again by:
- Building confidence in the construction and manufacturing sectors continuing to move out of lockdown while staying safe and working safe;
- Continuing to emphasise and promote the trends for home working for businesses in the financial, professional services and IT sectors, ensuring that those who can work at home continue to do so;
- Extending Step 1’s relaxation of the restrictions on garden centres to include other outdoor non-food retailers such as new and used car dealerships and large machinery retailers – a move which has already been provisionally agreed by the Executive to start from 8 June; and
- from 8 June as part of Step 2, opening non-food retail with lower frequency retail activities and/or larger store areas such as those selling household electrical appliances, mobile phones and furniture stores – a move which has also been provisionally agreed by the Executive. This will only apply where outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park and where social distancing can be implemented.
Confirming her Department is planning more publications in the coming weeks on restoring the economy, Minister Dodds acknowledged: “The Coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy. Each month of shutdown is akin to a large recession.
“The longer people are removed from the labour market, the greater the risk of long-term scarring on our economy and society. We need to take action now to help the economy recover. This will be gradual and in stages.”
As with other Executive decisions on emerging from lockdown, progress along the pathway to recovery for the economy will be determined by the rate of transmission of Covid-19.
Many companies have adapted their working practices and protocols or are preparing to do so, particularly in the wider manufacturing and food production sectors.
The measures they have introduced have included moving to straight production lines to facilitate two metre distancing, adding Perspex walkways, splitting work patterns and sittings in canteens, having appropriate PPE and increasing the cleaning of premises.
The Minister added: “I will do everything I can to protect individuals and livelihoods which support families and communities across Northern Ireland. A coordinated approach across the Executive will be required to help our businesses get back up and running and workplaces operating safely.
“Other important issues including childcare, public transport and management of the footfall on city centre streets will also need to be considered alongside our plans for the economy.”
The Department will in the near future publish papers on further steps for the retail sector, how vulnerable but viable businesses will be supported through the next phases, support for the unemployed to retrain and upskill and how the Executive will deliver on the commitment for a strong, competitive and regionally balanced economy during challenging times.
The Engagement Forum, chaired by the Labour Relations Agency, has also published workplace safety guidance. These live documents set out principles and practical steps to help employers, employees and the self-employed keep workplaces safe.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots announced today that some routine inspections by his Department, which were paused in the interests of public health, will restart in the coming days and weeks.
The Minister confirmed while some routine inspections will recommence almost immediately, others will not.
Minister Poots explained: “The checks and inspections that DAERA undertakes are vital to protect human health, trade, animal welfare, plant health and the environment. I want to gradually reintroduce our inspections programme to add to the essential ones that carried on during lockdown.
“My officials have been looking at workarounds and alternative strategies to deliver our services to ensure the safety of both our staff and the public. My focus remains on supporting business, keeping supply chains operational and ensuring public and animal health is protected along with the environment.”
The extensive environmental monitoring and surveillance programme undertaken by DAERA will also be gradually run up again. These programmes provide essential data on terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems along with water and air quality.
Information from these programmes is used to assess the state of the environment, identify potential risks to public health and provide the basis of decisions on authorisations and policy.
The efforts of volunteers to ensure people have continued to receive medicine during the Covid-19 pandemic was praised by the Health Minister Robin Swann.
During a visit to Gordon’s chemist in Ballymoney, were he met some of the volunteers of the medicines delivery service, the Minister revealed almost 34,000 home deliveries of medicines have taken place across Northern Ireland.
A total of 252 pharmacies have registered to be part of the delivery service, commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board and coordinated by the Community Development and Health Network, with 120 community groups also volunteering their time.
Minister Swann said: “I’m aware that community pharmacies have been working extremely hard to meet the increased demand for home deliveries of medicines within their communities and I thank them for all their hard work. During this outbreak, we have seen many excellent examples of volunteering in the battle against Covid-19.
“I was fortunate to meet Anne and her granddaughter Olivia today and they are a great example of what can be achieved when a community works together.
“I am very appreciative of the work co-ordinated by Community Development Health Network and carried out by the volunteer network which is helping to ensure that people have access to their prescription medicines.”