The Executive meeting finished a short time ago.
We have agreed to support the Health Minister in lifting the restrictions on access to graveyards.
This is about balancing public health concerns with the basic human need for people to visit their loved one’s grave.
In lifting this restriction, it is vital that members of the public heed the advice around going out in public when they are in a cemetery – respecting the two-metre social distancing rule, limiting their interaction with others and washing their hands thoroughly after they have been in public.
Losing a loved one is a huge moment in anyone’s life.
Whilst homes all across Northern Ireland are having to grieve without a wake or a public funeral, I want to sympathise with political colleagues who are grieving.
My colleague Edwin Poots will bury his father shortly. Having been involved in caring for Charlie over recent years I know how difficult it was for Edwin not to be close to him as he approached the end of his life. Charlie was elected in this place in 1973 and was a founding member of the DUP.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson buried his father yesterday. Jim was a big character in the kingdom of Mourne and someone who served his country with distinction. I know Jim was incredibly proud of his family. They were so important to him.
I also sympathise with the family of former MLA Oliver McMullan on the death of his twenty-two-year-old daughter. Those of us with children of that age immediately think of our own home.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has impacted on our traditional approach to mourning in this part of the world.
We have been speaking with funeral directors as many non-covid-19 related burials still take place.
During the pandemic, it is strongly recommended that funeral arrangements are made with your undertaker by telephone and not in person at the funeral director’s premises or the family home. While funeral notices can still be placed in newspapers or using online services, funeral arrangements should not be advertised.
In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, wakes should not be held.
Funerals should be private, adhere to social distancing guidance and only a maximum of 10 people should attend.
Current restrictions on social gatherings and the need for social distancing means that any gatherings, such as are common after a funeral, should not take place.
I know a lot is being asked of you at this time as you grieve. But we would not be asking you to respect these restrictions if it were not, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
Please listen to the advice of funeral directors.
To the wider population, as we head into this weekend, please remain at home as much as possible. If you do need to go out for essential work, shopping or exercise, please respect the social distancing advice and wash your hands thoroughly.
That is the most effective thing you can do to stop the spread of Covid-19.
By following that advice so far, you have made a major contribution to reducing the peak of this pandemic.
We cannot lapse now.
Whilst we have flattened the curve, now is not the time to be careless or try to cheat the rules. We are not out of the woods. Trying to make a quick dash for the exit will be a mistake.
We are working on a careful plan for recovery. We are urging people to think about what the new normal will look like in their work, home or neighbourhood.
Social distancing will be with us for a long time if we are going to protect life and our NHS. Rather than placing the whole country in a permanent deep freeze, we will need to learn how work and go about our business and observe social distancing.
In terms of testing. We are entering a new phase. Testing and tracing is key to that. We discussed this at the Executive and the need to ramp up our capability. To that end, we are retaining environmental health officers from Local Government to help increase our capability. For this to work and be effective we need to be able to test and trace. One without the other is not effective.
With regard to connectivity. It would be a nightmare if the ships were to stop running between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We welcome the Government’s support package for the shipping industry. We continue to speak with the chancellor about making our air, road and sea supply routes more resilient.
Finally, for those concerned about nursery places, the Education Authority has clarified that they will be issuing letters to parents on behalf of schools and playgroups to advise on the outcome of their child's pre-school / primary one application.
Letters should be with parents on Wednesday 29 April. The Education Authority will also be opening an online Portal which will be accessible via their website on Wednesday 29 April. Parents / guardians who had applied online in January 2020 can log in and obtain information relating to their child's pre-school / primary one application.