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.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced in the 2020/21 budget that £100 million of the £912 million additional Covid-19 funding available to the Executive has been allocated to a three-month rates holiday for all businesses.
Domestic rates are to be frozen and business rates reduced by 12.5% to ensure there is no additional burden on households and businesses at this difficult time.
The remaining £812 million in additional funding to address the pandemic will be allocated in a separate process.
First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday took part in a call with the Irish Government’s Tánaiste Simon Coveney, their Health Minister Simon Harris and the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis to discuss effective co-operation on a North-South and East-West basis to the Covid-19 pandemic.
All three administrations reaffirmed the commitment made on 14th March to ensure that everything possible will be done in co-ordination and co-operation between the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and with the active involvement of the health administrations in both jurisdictions to tackle the outbreak.
Welcoming the ongoing contact and contact between both Health Ministers and their Chief Medical Officers, they confirmed that this and other co-operation for the practical and mutual benefit of the people living in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland will be taken forward.
They also agreed that all co-operation will be based on the need to be agile, open and consistent and that close and ongoing contact will be maintained North-South and East-West.
All the participants also expressed their deep gratitude for the remarkable dedication and efforts of health workers, officials and all working to respond to Covid-19.
The first meeting of the Engagement Forum on Covid-19 took place with representatives of the CBI, the NI Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, Manufacturing NI, the NI Retail Consortium, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Unison, NIPSA, the INTO, Unite, USDAW, the Institute of Directors, the Public Health Agency, the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland and SOLACE taking part.
Chaired by Marie Mallon of the Labour Relations Agency, it was addressed by Economy Minister Diane Dodds and was attended by the Executive Office’s Junior Ministers Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney.
The forum has agreed to provide collective advice on the measures required to protect the safety of key workers and essential businesses, as well on the list of key workers and essential/non-essential businesses referred to in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020. It will meet again tomorrow.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Health Minister Robin Swann paid tribute today to the thousands of people who have volunteered to boost the health and social care workforce, with more than 10,000 people registering an interest online in taking on paid HSC roles.
Minister Hargey revealed her Department is also working closely with Volunteer Now, which has launched a #HelpEachOther campaign online for volunteers who can help deliver services that organisations provide to those in need.
Education Minister Peter Weir provided schools with guidance on clustering to ensure there are sustainable arrangements and sufficient places for vulnerable children and the children of key workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
The guidance, which has been developed by the Department of Education and its education partners, is intended for those schools which wish to work together in a cluster and are not currently doing so.
Schools in a geographical location, an Area Learning Community or a Shared Education partnership can form a cluster by coming together to agree suitable available premises for supervising children of key workers and vulnerable children.
The Department of Education will require schools to register their intentions in relation to clustering and it will continue to monitor the position on the ground in terms of staff available and the number of children and pupils attending on a daily basis.
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots temporarily suspended bovine TB testing on farms, with immediate effect.
Farm visits for testing may take place in exceptional circumstances in accordance with public health guidance, with the vet discussing the conduct of the test with the herdkeeper beforehand to ensure it can be carried out safely.
All DAERA angling waters have also been closed by the minister with immediate effect.
Minister Poots has urged all anglers to stay at home and to scrap all plans to visit angling waters until the Covid-19 emergency passes.