Assistance to help vulnerable in society

Assistance to help vulnerable in society

18 March 2020

THE Stormont Executive has agreed to introduce a package of measures to help mitigate against the worst effects of Covid-19 and protect the most vulnerable in society.

It was confirmed late on Monday night that a package of proposals will be brought forward by Ministers to the Executive for discussion and agreement.

They include rates relief for businesses and options for the continuation of free school meals in the context of schools closing and steps to protect the most vulnerable in society, including the homeless with support for the elderly a key priority.

In addition, Ministers have agreed to special meetings of the Executive to discuss budget allocations in light of the pressure Covid-19 will have on departments and to halt non-critical work and allocate resources into the wider rapid response effort.

The first and deputy first ministers will chair a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Group (NI) today where they will lead the response of the public sector, including blue light responders to the virus.

Along with Health Minister Robin Swann, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill participated in a meeting of the UK government’s COBR committee which co-ordinate the actions of government bodies in response to national or regional crisis on Monday.

Mrs Foster said that in these “unprecedented times” she was well aware of the real concern that exists across the community as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases increase.

“Further steps are being introduced to keep people safe,” she continued. 

“We know the burden that some of the necessary measures will have on families and individuals, but it is important that they are followed and society pulls together to lessen the impacts of this disease.”

Mrs O’Neill described the coronavirus outbreak as the “biggest public health crisis we have faced in a generation”.

She added: “The pandemic continues to escalate globally. Our priority is protecting our people and saving lives, which is paramount. As an Executive, we are doing everything we can and will continue to do so in the days, weeks and months ahead but we all have a role to play to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19.”

The Executive has also paid tribute to health service staff who are performing “heroically” during this unprecedented time.

Mr Swann said the entire health service is under growing pressure and appealed to people not to add to it unless they had to.

“Please, please be patient and treat our great staff with respect,” said the health minister. “They are there to care for you; you are their first concern. Please show them the same concern and consideration.”

The Executive has also taken the opportunity to urge the public to follow the public health advice which means continuing to wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and anyone with mild symptoms should stay at home; they will not need to be tested.

People are asked not to contact or go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or emergency department. If symptoms worsen during home isolation or you are no better after seven days, seek medical advice by telephone.

Those with an underlying health condition and who develop symptoms are advised to let their GP know and only only call 999 in an emergency.