Coronavirus: morning update

Coronavirus: morning update

Health Minister Robin Swann.

By Damian Mullan


By Damian Mullan


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.

Care homes are to receive an additional £11.7million package, enabling them to provide sick pay for staff, the Health Minister Robin Swann announced today.

With care homes at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19, the Minister said, as a result of the £11.7m package, care homes will be able to pay staff 80% of their salary when on sick leave for Coronavirus related reasons.

The Minister also confirmed work was ongoing to ensure lessons from the pandemic were learned and understood within the sector.

Minister Swann said: “I keep reminding everyone that the threat from Coronavirus is far from over and this certainly applies to our care homes. The threat will be with us on a long-term basis so it is vital that we learn lessons from the devastating experiences in care homes not just here, but internationally. The Covid-19 emergency has shone a harsh light on the long-standing challenges facing social care. I am committed to tackling these issues through investment and reform.” 

The funding will provide support with the cleaning costs in homes and the provision of specialist equipment like thermometers and pulse oximeters.

The package will also assist the widespread use of tablet devices in homes to ensure residents can maintain contact with their families in the absence of visits.

The Northern Ireland Assembly approved two amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) 2020 brought by the Executive Office Junior Ministers Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney.

During the debate on the amendments, which bring into effect recently announced measures such as permitting marriage services involving the terminally ill and allowing outdoor gatherings of up to six people from different households, the Junior Ministers stressed the need for members of the public to help secure more relaxations by acting responsibly.

Junior Minister Lyons noted: “People are free, and rightly so, to do more than they were able to just a few weeks ago. I want people to enjoy outdoor activities and to be able to sit in their gardens with a few friends or to visit garden centres, but the stupid and irresponsible actions of a few have the potential to threaten the progress that we have made, and that is an impact that all of us will then feel. I say to the young people and the others who have been breaking these rules: help us to help you. We want to get back to where we were before, but that is only going to happen if we stick to and obey the rules that are in place.”

Acknowledging there would be no full return in the short term to what society was like before lockdown, Junior Minister Kearney told MLAs: “We will have to learn to live with the virus for an extended period. That means that we will also need to carefully manage the way in which we go about our daily business and save lives. I understand very, very well that some in our society are frustrated at the pace of progress towards the easing of all our restrictions but I appeal to them for their continued patience. We have a way to go before COVID-19 has been beaten, so we need your ongoing partnership to continue saving lives.”

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots led tributes today to those employed in the essential waste sector for maintaining key services, protecting the environment and public health during the Covid-19 emergency.

The Minister, who also praised the public for continuing to recycle at high rates during the lockdown, said he was particularly impressed by how the sector had addressed logistical hurdles during the pandemic.

“Waste collection, processing and recycling are all vital services which also help protect jobs and support the economy going during this important time,” Minister Poots said.

“Thanks to greater co-operation and communication between the wider waste industry, local government and my department, the sector has ensured the maintenance of essential services whilst protecting human health. And we have never been more grateful for the sheer hard work of the on-the-ground staff who are out there every day doing their best to keep our streets clean and our environment protected. Your efforts and resolve have not gone unnoticed.”

Minister Poots also issued a reminder to farmers, businesses and members of the public to be extra careful to avoid the pollution of local waterways as society emerged from lockdown.

During a visit to the Glenavy River in County Antrim, where he met with representatives of the local angling club, Minister Poots observed: “During the Covid-19 crisis a lot of people have taken the opportunity to carry out DIY work in their homes. It is vitally important that no matter what tasks we are undertaking that we ensure that only rain and surface water goes into the storm or surface water drains. You must use the foul sewer to dispose of wastewater, which is connected to a wastewater treatment works and not the local river.”

Noting it was also particularly busy time for farmers, the Minster highlighted the serious impact slurry and silage spills can have.

“Farmers are continuing to work right through this pandemic to keep our supermarket shelves stocked. It is essential however that when working, in particular with slurry or silage, that farmers take the time to check that their tanks and stores are in good condition and that no effluent reaches pipes or drains leading to waterways,” he said. 

“Pollution affects everyone and has lasting damaging effects on our environment. I would therefore urge businesses, farmers and the public to be extra careful when carrying out any work that could potentially result in polluting our waterways.”

As a goodwill gesture to the Glenavy Conservation and District Angling Club, Minister Poots revealed he had asked DAERA Inland Fisheries to provide some brown trout for the river once water levels are higher.

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