I want to begin by taking a moment to reflect on the announcement by the Chancellor today on a number of initiatives to support businesses across the UK.
The extension of the 5% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality will be extremely helpful in those sectors.
The Furlough Scheme ending next month has benefitted a quarter of a million workers in Northern Ireland, and while I welcome the intention to introduce a new support scheme, Ministers are continuing to bottom out the details of exactly how businesses and employees in Northern Ireland will be impacted.
In relation to Covid, the average number of daily positive cases last week was 90. Today that number is 150.
That’s 150 people each day who are being told that they have Covid-19.
And the advice from our medical and scientific experts is that, if we do nothing, this will rapidly multiply.
So I am asking every person to join with us in pushing down this virus.
Our experience, and the experience of nations around the world, is that swift and targeted action can suppress the spread of this virus.
That’s why we put in place robust measures in all types of places and activities where people come together.
And these are particularly strict in places where alcohol can be consumed.
In our bars and restaurants customers must be seated, table numbers are limited and live music and dancing are not permitted.
We have had further discussions on this topic today and we will finalise more details over the next couple of days. The Ministerial-led Enforcement Group is also continuing to meet regularly.
We know that this virus struggles to survive in well-regulated environments where the public health guidelines are carefully followed.
But be assured that we will continue to review and monitor the impact of these measures.
This is all about balance.
To do nothing at all allows this virus to run free and this will decimate lives and livelihoods.
We know that this virus exploits the relaxed environments of our homes and other informal gatherings.
That is why every home in Northern Ireland has been asked to limit visitors indoors and outdoors.
And we have seen some encouraging evidence that these measures are working.
In a number of areas where the restrictions were first imposed, like Ballymena and BT29, there has been a reduction in levels of infection, although that does not mean that there is any room for complacency.
I want to thank all those who have faithfully kept to the guidelines.
We have made a number of other decisions at the Executive today.
The Finance Minister will detail shortly the latest allocations to Departments to help spur economic recovery, including for business, skills, research, local government, and arts and culture.
While we battle Covid we are also extremely mindful of the importance of ensuring we offer the very best non-Covid health care too.
A paper from the Health Minister was approved around enhancing cancer services, oncology and haematology. Robin will have much more to say on this.
The ‘New Decade New Approach’ document gave a high priority to meeting the needs of cancer patients by committing to the development of the new Cancer Strategy and an Implementation Plan by December 2020. The development of the strategy is progressing under the Chief Nursing Officer with healthcare professionals, cancer charities and service users to place Northern Ireland at the forefront of providing world class cancer prevention and treatment.
Ensuring we deal effectively particularly with urgent and red flag referrals is absolutely essential. We need to maximise capacity with additional consultants and workforce, and through innovative ways of delivering services.