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.
The Executive agreed today to keep the current Coronavirus Regulations in place until the circumstances allow for their relaxation.
First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed the decision to keep them under continuous review was taken after Ministers considered the latest scientific evidence and medical advice.
First Minister Foster explained: “Based on the evidence and advice provided to us by our scientific and medical professionals on the current transmission rates of the virus, and the significant level of risk in the relaxation of measures at this stage, we were not in a position to ease any of the restrictions following this most recent review…The next statutory review of the Regulations will take place before 30 May but we are committed to keeping them under continuous review and if we reach a point where we can make changes to specific measures before then, we will do so.”
Deputy First Minister O’Neill acknowledged: “This news will undoubtedly be disappointing for many people who have done a fantastic job of following the measures in place for the last six weeks; but I know that people will also understand that this is a precarious situation and lives depend on the approach we take at every juncture. We are appealing to the public to be patient and continue to abide by the regulations.”
Minister Swann added: “The relaxation of any restriction is not without risk. Each requires detailed consideration of a complex set of circumstances and is a fine balancing act between controlling transmission of the virus and the detrimental impacts of having the Regulations in place. Our primary concern is saving lives in the short, medium and long term. We cannot risk the decisions we take now having damaging consequences in the future and it is for this reason that the Regulations must remain in place.”
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, Justice Minister Naomi Long and Health Minister Robin Swann appealed to members of the public to stay at home and stay safe this Bank Holiday weekend following the release of the average weekly traffic flow figures.
While working week figures showed an overall reduction of up to 65%, and there was a 58% reduction in the overall weekly traffic flows, Minister Mallon said her officials had noticed an increase in the numbers of people travelling.
The Minister commented: “For many the reasons will be legitimate, but the need to continue to restrict our travel remains. We must restrict the spread of the virus by only making essential journeys.”
Minister Long urged the public to do the right thing, saying: “While formal enforcement powers of the health protection measures have been made available to policing, the vast majority of people are doing the right thing and I urge everyone to do likewise. If you are getting into your car, ask yourself if your reason for doing so is both essential and reasonable. None of this is easy but it is so important if we are to continue to flatten the curve and save lives.”
Minister Swann added: “It is reassuring to see that the ‘stay home’ message has got through to so many but lives still depend on us continuing to do the right thing. This weekend, like all the others, it is still essential that we stick to the social distancing measures that have proved to be successful in flattening the curve. Please stick with it no matter how good the weather is, how strong the temptation might be. Don’t give in or give up.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced plans to launch a Charities Fund with a value of around £15 million to support charities that have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 emergency.
As her officials developed plans for a Covid-19 Charities Fund, the Minister recognised the impact the crisis had had on the sector and its traditional fundraising activities.
Minister Hargey added: “The sector is made up of diverse groups, doing fantastic work in our communities. Given that this is a limited fund, it is important that the scheme is carefully considered and ensures the best possible use of the resources available, to support and prioritise needs within the sector. A public announcement will be made once the funding arrangements and the application process have been finalised and then agreed by the Executive.”
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots issued a fresh appeal to people not to fly-tip and to think twice about clearing out their house and gardens during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Noting Bank Holiday weekends are a time when members of the public like to devote time and energy to home improvements, Minister Poots urged them to only visit their Household Waste Recycling Centre if it was absolutely essential.
The Minister argued: “We all have a part to play in reducing the burden on our waste sector and I am urging everyone to think again about clearing out their house or garden this weekend. It simply puts added pressure on our recycling facilities. Only visit your local Household Waste Recycling Centre if it’s absolutely essential. We can also help our environment by recycling more and ensuring our waste doesn’t end up in landfill.”
With the Executive treating as a key priority the security of food supply lines during Covid-19, Minister Poots confirmed his officials have also developed an initial action plan in conjunction with other Executive Departments for the sector.
The Minister explained: “My Department has developed an Initial Plan on Food Supply outlining what success looks like, the risks, the roles all NI Departments need to play in achieving success and our next steps. We are also developing a Food Observatory to continuously assess the health of the food system, with a view to encouraging and supporting measures to maintain its flexibility and resilience.”