Good afternoon and thank you again for continuing to fulfil this public service communications role.
When we started these daily updates the forecast number of deaths, if we had taken no action, struck terror in us all.
We are protecting lives and protecting the NHS.
Families across Northern Ireland have stayed at home and helped flatten the curve but be in no doubt, this is not the time to take our foot off the pedal or return to our pre-Covid-19 routines.
We must stay the course of isolation and social distancing.
Those of us in government are working night and day to map out a path to recovery to support every part of society. The recovery will be graduated. One step at a time - importantly taken AT THE RIGHT TIME.
By taking one step at a time, we can protect lives, protect our health service and also protect your family incomes.
We will work together as an Executive to achieve this.
The Agriculture Minister has reopened Forest Parks today with additional IMPORTANT controls in place.
He has taken this step after careful consideration. The Parks under his control will be open for people who live nearby. Carparks will remain closed and there will be no picnics permitted.
I appreciate the impact that staying at home can have no mental health. We want to enable people to have a space to clear their head and get some fresh air but any abuse of this will not be tolerated.
Earlier today, I had a wonderful visit to Dougan Contracts in Bangor who are working in partnership with AG Electrical, to manufacture face visors for NHS staff. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet employers who are putting people ahead of profits. All across Northern Ireland there are companies giving freely of their time to make PPE for frontline staff. Collectively we say “Thank you”.
For those of you concerned about the connectivity of Northern Ireland throughout and on the other side of this crisis, be assured, we understand your worries and are working with HM Government to ensure that our connectivity by road, sea and air is safeguarded so that freight can continue to move in and out of Northern Ireland.
For our tourism, hospitality and retail sector, we hear your voice, and we are continuing our work to seek to assist.
In all of our actions, we must be sensible.
We are not out of the woods nor are we ready to make a dash for the exit. To do so would be foolish and risk a second wave which would undo all the good work we done over the last few weeks.
While it is sensible for the public and private sector to be considering how we reboot, we must not lose sight of our primary focus to flatten the curve of the pandemic and follow the public health advice.
All of us need to think about what society may look like when restrictions are gradually lifted and how it will function.
The global economy has taken a huge hit as a result of Covid-19 – a hit that will have long term implications for the way the public and private sectors operate for years to come.
But we must all face the reality that when the initial threat recedes and the first wave of this pandemic is over, it will not be business as usual.
Everyone in a position of responsibility in the public and private sector needs to prepare for a new normal by asking questions like:
Can I facilitate remote working among my employees?
Are there technological solutions we have introduced to the way we do business during the crisis that are working and could continue once the initial Covid-19 threat recedes?
Are there creative ways to keep production lines going while guaranteeing the safety of our workforce?
Can shift patterns be altered over the course of a week to meet the safety needs of employers and also the demands of customers?
These are the questions we are all going to have to wrestle with.
Before I hand over to the Deputy First Minister, I want to provide a brief update on our business support schemes.
For the 25k scheme which commenced yesterday there have already been 2,096 applications.
And for the 10k scheme, there have been 19,138 applications. 16,338 grants have been paid and a further 655 will be paid today.