Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin with the issue of the announcement today from Bombardier.
Job losses on this scale by a major employer like Bombardier will obviously be felt not just in the homes of those affected but across the wider community – particularly smaller manufacturers who have been part of the company’s local supply chain.
The company’s announcement reminds us of just how much Covid-19 has disrupted our economy and, in particular, the aerospace industry which is suffering the after-shocks of extremely curtailed air travel.
The Economy Minister and Invest NI have been in close contact with the company and are exploring how we can address supply chain resilience and future development.
The Executive is also very conscious of the need at this time to support employees who will be impacted by redundancy.
I understand the Careers Service is offering free professional and impartial careers information and guidance tailored to the needs of individuals, helping them explore future training and employment opportunities. All Bombardier staff impacted by today’s announcement can access this help via: www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers.
In relation to Covid, several hundred lives have also been lost as a result of the pandemic- a huge tragedy that will linger not just in the homes of those families affected but the communities in which they reside.
Northern Ireland has, however, been making significant progress in the battle against Covid-19.
In recent weeks, we have embarked on the journey back to something approaching normality.
Nevertheless, it is believed that less than 5% of the community in Northern Ireland has been infected by the virus and has recovered, compared to approximately 20% in London.
The risk of further waves of Covid-19 is very real, so we must continue to be cautious if we are to avoid our health system becoming overwhelmed in the future by a surge in cases.
The current infection prevalence estimate ranges between 1 in 900 people and 1 in 6,000 for Northern Ireland.
The Executive has also been told by the Chief Scientific Adviser this morning that the R value in the province is currently between 0.5 and 0.9.
Therefore, as signalled earlier this week, the Executive can confirm that the rest of retail will be allowed to re-open their stores from tomorrow – provided social distancing and hygiene guidelines are accommodated and implemented. This will include shopping centres.
Close contact services, referenced in the later stages of the Executive’s roadmap such as hairdressers and driving instructors, will not yet reopen but they will be considered in due course.
The Executive will also consider in depth next week the potential to bring forward dates for the reopening of caravan parks and hotels, restaurants and other hospitality.
It should also be noted that Northern Ireland’s housing market has been the most negatively impacted throughout the UK – as recently seen in the official HMRC registered transaction levels for April 2020.
The real estate industry has one of the highest ‘employment multiplier’ effects in the economy.
I am, therefore, pleased to announce that our Coronavirus Regulations will be amended to permit house moves and the sale of homes from Monday 15th June. This will incorporate the full end-to-end process from viewing, through to securing a mortgage and the house move itself.
Guidance has been prepared on all aspects of the house moving process and the Department for Communities plans to engage further with stakeholders.
The Executive recognises too the importance of childcare in terms of people returning to work and, as an early step, Ministers have agreed that church halls and community centres will be permitted to open to provide daycare from Friday 12 June.
A broader piece of work on informal childcare provision is being finalised by the Departments of Health and Education.
The Executive is also acutely aware that there is a strong desire among people for a return to a more normal social life, incorporating their favourite activities and interests.
Step 2 in the Executive’s Decision-Making Framework envisaged raising the number of people who can meet outside from six to ten. The Executive has agreed today that this too can proceed, with social distancing between people who do not share the same household.
Elite athletes will also be permitted to utilise outdoor training facilities from 15th June and we hope to say more about broader sporting activity over the course of the next week or so.
The outstanding action in Step 1 in our roadmap has been indoor visits - in the main, because of advice we have received around the risk of spreading the virus being much greater indoors.
Ministers are mindful that almost 30% of homes are single-person households and we want to minimise the impacts of loneliness and isolation on those people by enabling people to meet in a controlled and straightforward way.
Today, we are signalling that we are in the process of closing Step 1, and taking the immediate step of enabling people who live alone to form a small support unit (or support bubble) with one other household.
This would permit the person to visit, stay over and spend more time with their support network. However the person should only have a single household as the support network.
We are suggesting an implementation date of Saturday 13 June and guidance will be prepared for those impacted.
However we should make clear that the advice we have received is that those people who are shielding will not be able to avail of this initial easement.
We believe that for those people living alone and not shielding, this measure will help tackle isolation.
We hope to further build on that first step when we review the situation again next week, with a view to enabling contact indoors between different households.
The Executive will complete a formal review of the Coronavirus regulations by next Thursday, and continue to discuss further a number of these topics over the course of next week.
All of these announcements are further pieces of the normalisation jigsaw, as we emerge from lockdown.
The Executive has been able to fit those pieces into place because the majority of you have faithfully followed the medical and scientific advice on self-isolating, on limiting your activities in public, on social distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene.
We need you to keep doing that.
We will be able to make more progress, if everyone continues to follow the official public health advice, if you act sensibly, avoid large gatherings and if you wait patiently for other remaining restrictions to be lifted.
We all have a role to play in advancing our journey out of lockdown. Stay safe. Save lives. Work safe. Save lives.