First Minister Arlene Foster addressed the daily NI Executive media briefing again today.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you will know, the Irish Government last Friday outlined a five point plan for emerging from lockdown.The governments in Scotland and Wales have also in recent days given a sense of what they intend to do, in a high level way.
The Northern Ireland Executive is working actively on our plan.
At our meeting today, we have continued to make progress on it and while I appreciate many of you are anxious for us to produce a plan now, it is important that the Executive remains focused on getting it right in light of the latest medical and scientific advice.
I think it would be useful at this stage to give you a sense of the thought processes that are shaping our plan.
All of us in the Executive are very conscious that the emergency regulations we have had to implement have had a dramatic impact on the way you live and how our society functions.
We’re now in the seventh week of living with restrictions that nobody wanted to implement.
Families have made great sacrifices – socially distancing from relatives, neighbours and friends.
Government departments have had to introduce emergency measures to support the most vulnerable in our society – ensuring the homeless are protected, that food parcels reach the most disadvantaged and also vital medicines.
Some businesses have had to close their doors and avail of unprecedented financial aid from our national Government and this Executive to furlough staff.
Other businesses have managed to remain open to keep vital supply chains and services operating. They have had to implement social distancing in offices, factory floors and shops and they have had to think creatively about shift patterns.
A lot of children have been educated at home and remotely, while the children of key workers have been cared for in some schools.
If we hadn’t implemented all those restrictions, if we had chosen a different path, the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic would have been a lot worse in Northern Ireland than it is. Our health service would have been overwhelmed.
The vast majority of you prevented that from happening by closely following the advice on social distancing and on public hygiene.
However we have not yet defeated Coronavirus and we won’t until a vaccine is successfully trialled and made widely available.
Until then, we will learn to live with the virus whilst continuing to suppress it.
Social distancing and other measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are likely to be with us for some time.
Having come so far in successfully limiting the spread of Covid-19, the challenge for this Executive and other governments around the world is this: how do we loosen restrictions in a way that is science-led, proportionate and above all, not going to expose our society to a huge spike in infection?
In fashioning a plan, ministers are being guided by the latest medical and scientific evidence and analysis. We are looking closely at the current rate of infection, the estimated level of transmission and estimates of the future trajectory of this pandemic once relaxation takes place.
Another significant factor in our planning is assessing the capacity of our health and social care system to deal with Covid-19 cases and also the resumption of other health services.
The Executive is also assessing the wider health, societal and economic implications of the current restrictions to determine which areas would pose the least risk and greatest benefit if we were to relax them.
None of these decisions are easy.
As we have said before, all governments are grappling with the implications of a public health crisis that has never been experienced.
Covid-19 has dramatically altered society and will have implications for the way we live for many years to come.
As we contemplate relaxation and the media also focuses on that, the Executive is very conscious that there is a real danger of members of the public becoming distracted and assuming it is ok to resume what they might have done before.
We need all of you to still be on your guard.
If you do go out to work, to go to the shops, get medicine or exercise, you still need to respect the social distancing guidelines, follow the 2 metre rule and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Adhering to those restrictions has been really effective up to now.
We cannot afford to become lax. We cannot act as if Coronavirus has been beaten because it hasn’t.
Covid-19 still poses a very real threat to you and to the lives of those you love.
We are planning for change, but until then we need you to work with us and know we will not keep the restrictions in place any longer than necessary.
Also at the Executive today, we have agreed to provide additional funding to complement City and Growth Deals. This will allow a ranged of proposals to proceed in the North West that have been worked up subject to business case approvals. The Executive also agreed to establish a £100million fund for projects in other City/Growth Deal areas that can enhance those particular Deals.