Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has confirmed contingency plans are in place to deal with impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on local infrastructure.
Minister Mallon said: “Keeping communities across the North safe at this very concerning time is my priority and I want to reassure the public that my Department is doing everything it can to ensure essential services and connections are maintained for those using and reliant on our infrastructure network.
“The Department has well-rehearsed emergency plans which have been reviewed in recent weeks and procedures are being kept under review in light of any new advice from the Public Health Agency. My department continues to work closely with other agencies and I am clear that no effort will be spared.
“In relation to public transport, Translink has implemented a range of measures including enhanced cleaning of buses and trains in addition to the regular daily cleaning that is undertaken for our public transport fleet. Enhanced cleaning regimes have also been introduced to bus and rail stations. Translink has also amended its procedures for staff in relation to contact with customers to ensure the safety of everyone involved. This includes no contact between staff and the public for ticket checks and issuing staff with personal hygiene products.
“My officials are also working closely with NI Water. NI Water has a well-tested major incident response regime in place to respond to operational emergencies and its priority continues to be ensuring the continued provision of water and wastewater services to customers while maintaining the safety and wellbeing of staff.
“It is also important that we minimise any disruption to our supply chains and on Saturday I issued a letter to all Councils in Northern Ireland on the urgent matter of enabling retailers of food, sanitary and other essential items to increase the frequency of deliveries to their stores. The letter, which comes into effect immediately, makes clear that Councils should take a positive approach to their engagement with food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry, to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to essential deliveries over this period.
“To help deal with the increasing pressure caused to the logistics industry, in relation to a temporary relaxation of the rules around drivers’ hours, an emergency exemption can already be used which does not require prior authorisation from my Department. However, I will consider urgently any requests for a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours in urgent cases where the emergency exemption does not apply, while also maintaining a clear focus on road safety.”
The Minister continued: “I also want to confirm my commitment to ensuring the Rathlin community is served and supported in this difficult time and my officials will make the continued connectivity with this community a priority. In line with that the Department continues to work with the ferry operator to ensure appropriate measures are in place to protect staff and passengers and maintain this essential service.
“My Department’s emergency response services such as flooding and traffic control will continue to be prioritised, along with other front line services and my officials are working across the Department to clarify what further arrangements may need to be put in place to deal with this changing situation and will update the public in due course.
“I would encourage the public to continue to do what they can to delay the spread of the virus and follow the latest advice from the Public Health Agency. I know this is a frightening time for people. I want to reassure them that within my Department and working with all government departments, we will continue to do all we can to keep people safe.”