Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials were today involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced plans to amend legislation to enable health workers unable to take holiday leave as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak to carry it over to the next two years.
The change to the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 legislation would ensure no worker with an entitlement to 5.6 weeks or 28 days of holiday each year, including bank holidays, will lose it.
The amended legislation will bring Northern Ireland into line with changes made in Great Britain last week.
In a a bid to guarantee the safety of Prison Officers and those in their care, Justice Minister Naomi Long sanctioned in a Written Ministerial Statement the temporary early release of some sentenced prisoners.
While acknowledging it was an unusual and previously unthinkable step that would be hard for victims of crime, the Minister said reducing the prisoner population in a proportionate way would help reduce the risks to staff, the sharing of cells and also enable officers to focus resources on those inmates in most need because of mental health, addiction and self-harm problems.
The scheme will be kept under constant review and is limited to certain categories of prisoners.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey approved the release by Sport NI and the NI Sports Forum of £1million in remaining 2019/20 grants to sports clubs and high performance programmes and also the early release of another £1.4million - 50% of the 2020/21 grant awards for clubs and 25% of awards for the high performance programmes.
Minister Hargey confirmed the remainder of the 2020/21 grants will be made available once there is clarity on when sports programmes can resume and when the Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in 2021. Department for Communities officials will in the meantime work with Sport NI to develop initial emergency financial relief to grassroots sports organisations from early April.
A list of schools which are open for the educational supervision of vulnerable children and key workers’ children was today made available online.
Education Minister Peter Weir paid tribute to those schools that are supervising vulnerable children and the children of key workers but said the Department was also looking at what could be done for a small number of cases where key workers’ children had not been able to access schools.
The Department of Health today issued guidance to community pharmacies on how to continue to provide their service while adhering to the latest legislation and guidance.
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said all community pharmacies should remain open for business as usual and regularly consult the HSCB Community Pharmacy FAQs and Staff Protection Checklist available at: www.hscbusiness.hscni.net/services/3124.htm as well as general guidance on social distancing available at: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus'.
Chief Social Worker Sean Holland stressed the importance of people looking after their mental health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 outbreak while they remain at home.
While promoting the mental health advice available in the new Covid-19 NI app on the Apple app store and Google Play and on the Public Health Agency website, he encouraged members of the public to check up on families, friends and neighbours on the phone or line, establish a new routine, eat healthily, exercise and get regular sleep.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots issued new guidelines to the public on how they should handle their personal waste, including washing their hands before and after putting their bins out and bringing them in.
The new guidelines call for cloths, wipes and gloves used for cleaning to be put in the general waste bin and not recycling bins and boxes and urges people to disinfect the handles of the wheelie and recycling bins before and after collection.
Members of the public were urged by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to do all they can that essential workers in Translink, NI Water and the Department’s roads and rivers teams are able to conduct their business safely.
“Whether it’s using public transport for those essential journeys, going for a walk or cycle, or if a utility provider needs to call, please adhere to the guidance for social distancing. If using the roads for essential travel, stay alert for vehicles and as always, reduce your speed,” Minister Mallon said.