Ladies and gentlemen, over the last three months a lot has been asked of all of us in the name of public safety.
The vast majority of you have followed the public health advice to contain the spread of Covid-19.
You have taken the proper health precautions. You have altered your behaviour.
You have limited your interactions with family and others. You have changed the way you worship, the way you exercise, the way you relax, the way you shop.
None of this has been easy but your selfless actions, your determination and self-discipline have undoubtedly had a positive impact.
Collectively we’ve been able to drive down the rate of infection and avoid our hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid cases- a horrific outcome which some countries faced, but we have managed to avoid.
Businesses have unquestionably played their part- with many shutting their doors in a bid to prevent the virus from wreaking havoc among the workforce and the wider community.
Throughout our response the Executive has based its decisions on Covid-19 around health, economic and societal implications.
Saving lives has always been our priority, but increasingly our focus has been turning to livelihoods.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy.
The longer people are removed from the labour market, the greater the risk of long-term scarring on our economy and society.
We need to take action to help the economy recover. This will be gradual and in stages.
Our key messaging has recently changed to Stay Safe, Save Lives and Work Safe, Save Lives.
Some elements of retail have been permitted to open over recent weeks, and others have opened this morning.
We have received a further update on the latest expert scientific and medical advice from the Health Minister and his team today.
And if at our next Executive meeting on Thursday, the advice remains that the virus is being kept under control, the Executive has agreed that the rest of retail in Northern Ireland can re-open from this Friday, 12th June.
Progress along our economic recovery pathway will be reliant on controlling the rate of transmission of COVID-19.
Social distancing and respiratory and hand hygiene will be key.
The Economy Minister, Diane Dodds, will continue to engage with the retail sector and assist with preparations ahead of reopening, and how risks can be ameliorated. Many have already made adaptations.
Those services such as hairdressers and barbers where there is close personal contact will be considered in subsequent stages of the Executive’s Covid response.
A co-ordinated approach is required to help businesses get back up and running and workplaces operating safely. Issues such as childcare, public transport and management of the footfall on high streets will also need to be considered.
We will have further broader discussions at Thursday’s Executive meeting around moving through the other outstanding elements of Step 2 and progressing the Executive’s roadmap to recovery and greater normality.
Ministers are mindful of the desire of families and friends to meet, and we will consider this further later in the week.
We have looked at the approach that has been adopted in other parts of the world including New Zealand and we have asked officials for advice on the ‘bubble’ concept.
The deputy First Minister and I have also agreed to establish a working group involving churches and other faith groups to discuss how best to the achieve the gradual re-opening of places of worship safely, step by step.
We applaud the efforts the Northern Ireland community has made in responding to Covid. We encourage you to continue to act wisely, and safely. That way, we can continue to make further progress.