Coronavirus: morning update

Ministers and officials involved in number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency

Coronavirus: morning update

Health Minister Robin Swann.

By Damian Mullan

Reporter:

By Damian Mullan

Email:

sport@thechronicle.uk.com

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 new group has been formed to identify key learnings from the experiences of care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Minister Robin Swann revealed today.

The Rapid Learning Initiative has representatives drawn from the independent care home sector, the Health and Social Care system and the Royal College of Nursing and will be chaired by the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer Linda Kelly.

Acknowledging that Covid-19 had hit the sector very hard, Minister Swann said: “This will help us understand what our health and social care system needs to do ahead of any future wave. I know that this virus has taken its toll on residents, families, staff and care home providers. I would encourage as many people as possible to take part in this process. For those of you who have been on the frontline, your experiences are critical in informing the learning. For residents and your families, it’s important that we capture and learn from your perspectives.”

Paying tribute to the commitment, dedication and professionalism of care home staff, the Minister stressed the Rapid Learning Initiative was not a research project, an investigation or an inquiry but was a collaboration between statutory bodies, the care home sector and the nursing profession to identify learnings that could be taken forward in the short term.

Education Minister Peter Weir today published information on the childcare recovery plan and Education Restart programme to help schools prepare for the return of their first cohort of pupils in August.

The information, published in a question and answer format on the Department of Education’s website, provides an initial outline of both programmes and will be updated to address additional issues as and when they arise.

The childcare recovery plan aims to restore the sector to pre-Covid-19 capacity levels as quickly as possible, while the Education Restart programme identifies six priority work-streams to deliver the reopening of schools.

Minister Weir said: “Both the childcare recovery plan and the Education Restart Programme are important starting points in the journey to reopening schools. We realise there is a lot of new information regarding both schemes and have provided today’s FAQs to enable parents, childcare and educational settings to access the details they may need as easily as possible. This information is by no means exhaustive and we will be adding to the FAQs as and when the need arises.”

Co-Ownership housing received a £10million boost from Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín to enable it to reopen to new customers.

Co-Ownership is the Department’s main delivery partner for affordable housing, offering people the opportunity to enter home ownership through its products Co-Own and Rent to Own.

However the processing of new applications was paused on March 24 as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Minister Ní Chuilín said: “Co-Ownership, through support from the Department, has assisted over 29,000 people to own their own home.  It has increased the opportunities for many including first time-buyers, and those returning to the market, who are in employment, but cannot access sufficient housing finance in the mortgage market. This £10m investment from my Department will enable the scheme to open again to new customers who are interested in exploring Co-Ownership as a route to home ownership.”

The publication of new guidance to enable the tourism and hospitality sectors to open as safely as possible was welcomed by the Economy Minister Diane Dodds.

The Executive had announced that, depending on the rate of infection, caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation may reopen on June 26. 

Hotels and other tourist accommodation may reopen from July 3 along with restaurants, cafés and coffee shops.

Pubs and bars may open from July 3 for the provision of food and open their beer gardens on a table service basis.

With a new industry standard and consumer mark being developed in conjunction with UK tourism boards, Minister Dodds said the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sectors was essential to the rebuilding of the economy.

The Minister added: “However, the application of social distancing and hygiene practices is vital. We must ensure the transmission of the virus is minimised and we need to reassure customers, employees and visitors that establishments are as Covid-19 safe as possible. That is why the publication of this guidance is so important. It is the responsibility of businesses to read it and apply it. It is also the responsibility on all of us as visitors and customers to play our part in tackling the pandemic and to behave responsibly.“It is also reassuring for customers that an industry standard will be established to show the guidance has been adopted.”

The guidance – entitled Working Safely During Covid-19 in the Visitor Economy – is aimed at business owners, operators and workers in hotels and other tourist accommodation, indoor and outdoor attractions and experiences, hospitality businesses including restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced an £800,000 Environmental Challenge Fund Competition, to support environmental projects across Northern Ireland.

Not-for-profit organisations and councils may apply to the fund to deliver key environmental priorities across Northern Ireland.

It is envisaged the majority of grant awards will be between £20,000 and £50,000 and that the maximum amount of Government funding available under the competition will be 75% of eligible project costs.

At the launch of the competition at Slievenacloy in the Belfast Hills, Minister Poots observed: “The impact of Covid-19, alongside the difficult financial climate, means this is a great opportunity to support the work of local organisations who are passionate about improving the environment. The Fund enables environmental not-for-profit organisations to focus on the areas of environmental protection, improvement and monitoring of habitats and species; the quality of fresh and coastal waters and air; promotion of health, well-being, understanding, appreciation and action for the environment and access to the natural environment.  It will help us to continue to deliver DAERA’s strategic aims and those in the Programme for Government.”

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