First Minister Arlene Foster.
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.
A phased five-stage plan for how Northern Ireland can slowly move out of lockdown was published by the Executive on Tuesday.
The document, which sets out the approach ministers will take when deciding how to ease restrictions, was also outlined in the Assembly by the First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.
In reaching decisions on relaxing restrictions, the Executive will consider three key criteria: the most up-to-date scientific evidence, the ability of the health service to cope and the wider impacts on our health, society and the economy.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “We don’t want to keep any restriction in place any longer than we have to, but in relaxing any measure we must be cognisant of the potential effects in the transmission of the virus and our ability to save lives.
"The Executive’s recovery strategy sets out a pathway for us to emerge from lockdown in the safest way possible. This will require a series of judgements and decisions as we move forward. These decisions will be evidence based, taking account of our unique circumstances here in Northern Ireland.
"As we embark on our phased recovery, we will remain focused on the health and wellbeing of our population; the impacts on our society; and our economy as a whole. Above all else, our priority will be saving lives.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “The incremental five-step approach reflects the risk-based judgements we will make at each stage. These decisions will be evidenced by medical and scientific advice and benchmarked against our guiding principles and international best practice.
"The Executive’s strategy is not time bound because it’s vital that we retain the flexibility needed to respond to the complex emerging situation based on all relevant evidence. Our recovery from Coronavirus will require a real partnership effort with the community.
"We are appealing to the public to please be patient. Keep adhering to the restrictions, follow the public health advice and stay at home. We will keep you updated every step of the way when we are in a position to slowly and carefully move out of lockdown.”
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon also brought to the Assembly today new electric bike legislation, enabling the use of some cycles on public roads without the need for registration or licensing during the COVID-19 restrictions.
MLAs unanimously passed the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 allowing the use on public roads from May 13 of e-bike with pedals and an electric motor which has a maximum rated power of 250w and which cannot exceed a speed of 15.5 mph (25 km/h). The legislation does not cover other classes of e-bikes, which will still be considered as motor vehicles.
Minister Mallon said: “This will be an important step to encourage more people regardless of age or physical ability to take up cycling to improve their health and wellbeing which has taken on more importance since the outbreak of COVID-19.
"I hope that the Assembly can support me and send a clear message to the people of Northern Ireland, that we must change the way we live not only in the midst of this crisis, but to also tackle the climate crisis, reshaping our world and opening new opportunities that enhance our communities and our wellbeing.
"As we move towards the recovery phase of this emergency, using electric bikes to travel to work or for recreational purposes would provide an opportunity for people to consider an alternative way to travel or enjoy their daily exercise. By cutting down on traffic congestion, and reducing air pollution, we will also improve the quality of life for everyone in Northern Ireland.”