Ladies and gentlemen, P7 pupils across Northern Ireland today learned which post-primary schools they will be attending.
To those who have secured a place in their first choice school, well done.
But even if you didn’t get your first choice, don’t worry. Whatever school you go to, you are simply embarking on a new chapter in your life. There will be opportunities for you in your new school in the years ahead to realise your dreams and there will be plenty of people, including your teachers, eager to help you.
The experience of school, of course, has for all schoolchildren dramatically changed because of COVID-19.
As we emerge from lockdown, the same is true for wider society.
Until a vaccine is found, we are all going to have to adjust to the new realities of COVID-19 life.
The Executive has today agreed proposals to align childcare as closely as possible to the Executive’s return-to-work decision-making and restart planning for schools.
As a first step, from 8 June 2020, the definition of keyworker used for childcare purposes will be brought into line with the keyworker definition for schools.
The Executive has also agreed for regulations to be introduced that will require self-isolation for those arriving into Northern Ireland after starting their journey outside the Common Travel Area.
The Health Minister will lay the regulations with a fine for breaches of £1,000, and they will come into effect from Monday 8th June.
Those who arrive into Dublin or other destinations in the Irish Republic, but travel to Northern Ireland will also fall under our regulations.
As Northern Ireland emerges cautiously but sensibly from lockdown, guided by the latest medical and scientific advice, the progress we have achieved has been made possible by a majority of people sticking closely to the public health guidance on COVID-19.
You have had to sacrifice many freedoms that we all took for granted and it is that selflessness and communal spirit that has driven down the level of transmission or R rate.
As we resume some activities, there is a palpable sense of relief out there that we are slowly but surely emerging from lockdown.
However we need to be careful that in our enthusiasm to restore the rights we previously had, we exercise them responsibly and don’t lose our sense of perspective.
COVID-19 is still claiming lives in Northern Ireland.
It can do that when crowds gather even in their dozens and social distancing is ignored.
So, while I understand the desire of people to protest yesterday at Belfast City Hall about the horrific death of George Floyd, they need to think very carefully about whether there are other, safer ways to protest.
Are there ways that respect the need for social distancing and avoid risking participants’ lives, possibly harnessing technology in ways that others in the faith communities, in the creative arts and politics have done?
Let’s be clear. Many have cancelled mass gatherings, such as 12th July for very good reasons. People have been denied the opportunity to attend the funerals of family members and close friends.
Mass gatherings such as yesterday are dangerous, however laudable the cause may be.
There are alternate ways to protest and those should be explored.
There have been many incidences in recent weeks around the world of countries having to reconsider relaxations because of spikes in infection.
China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and South Korea have all had to roll back relaxations. In the last 24 hours, Israel has also begun considering doing the same.
Last week, the Executive announced that provided the R rate remained stable, people would be permitted from June 8 to attend to the needs or welfare of their pets or non-farm animals.
Depending on the R rate, we also said that from June 8, outdoor marriages and civil partnership ceremonies would be allowed with the number of people attending limited to 10.
Outdoor sports facilities would be permitted to reopen.
Outdoor retailers would be allowed to trade again- such as new and used car sales as well as business trading in light motor vehicles, lorries and trailers, and agricultural and other large machinery.
Shops with lower frequency customer visits and/or a greater propensity for larger store areas would be permitted to trade- such as those selling electrical goods, mobile phones, computers, furniture and furnishings- but only where they could accommodate social distancing and have direct street access or direct access within a retail park.
The Executive is delighted to confirm we are satisfied that as of next Monday these businesses can all go ahead and open again for business.
Further progress on the Executive’s five stage roadmap for recovery can only be achieved if it is medically and scientifically safe.
f the R rate soars back up beyond 1, the Executive will have to think
again about relaxations. It is, therefore, up to all of us to play our
part in preventing that.
Collectively, we need to deny COVID-19 the ability to spread in our communities. We can do that by exercising the freedoms we have won back sensibly and not engaging in activities that are still curtailed.
Stay safe. Save lives. Work safe. Save lives.