Public address from First Minister and deputy First Minister - 22 September 2020
Full text of public address from First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on the Covid-19 pandemic.
The First Minister Arlene Foster said:
We have just had a sobering assessment from the Prime Minister of the choices we face as a nation.
As we are all now very aware, this deadly virus has crept into communities in every county in Northern Ireland.
Since Thursday, almost 700 new cases have been reported. We are now reporting the highest number of cases that we have seen since the early stages of Covid.
And there has been a rise in hospital admissions, with the number of hospital in-patients rising by 50% over the last week.
We need to act.
But I want to reassure you, that despite all the headlines, this is not a second lockdown.
This is a wakeup call. A reminder that we are not out of the woods.
As an Executive, we have agreed that your school, your shop, your factory, your business, your college, your local hotel or restaurant will remain open because they have all taken steps to stop the spread of the virus.
The track and trace system also points to limited spread in those facilities.
As you enter those places, your hands will be sanitised, you will stay apart, and you may even wear PPE.
We have however, from 6.00pm this evening, restricted how many people you can gather in your home.
This is a tough restriction in a country where we are known for our hospitality.
Despite all of our divisions in Northern Ireland, our doors have always been open.
We are good neighbours. We are a naturally hospitable people, but it is no kindness to host or attend large gatherings in each other’s homes at the moment.
We speak specifically about the house parties inside and outside. The only winner in the long term from such scenes will be Covid-19.
Over the last 24 hours some of you have contacted us online.
This is not about stopping your elderly mum or dad coming over.
They can be part of your bubble. They can still provide childcare and you can still provide care to them.
These are specific steps based on data and designed to protect your granny and grandfather. They’re about protecting your elderly mummy and daddy.
Our elderly friends and relatives remain the most susceptible to the virus and the most vulnerable.
I appreciate renewed measures are not good news but they are proportionate and we are trying to be practical.
As an Executive, we will not get every last thing right but our motives are to protect as many lives and livelihoods as we can.
As I have said before, this is not a lockdown, in fact these actions are designed to prevent the need for a return to lockdown.
If you are a tutor or a music teacher at home, your work can still continue.
If you are a childcare provider, your work can still continue.
If you are trades person, you can still visit homes to provide your service.
If you’re hairdresser or beautician working from your home or going to other homes, your work can still go on.
But please be sensible when people come to your home or you visit their home for work purposes.
Wash your hands. Keep distanced and wear a mask. All these small steps will help.
The Executive will meet again on Thursday. Between now and then, we will look closely at the measures that have been outlined today in the Prime Minister’s address.
We will again consider our particular circumstances and work with the other UK regions as well as our neighbours in the Republic.
But be assured that every step we take will be appropriate and proportionate. We are resolute in dealing with this virus.
But we cannot do this alone.
I am asking every person to join with us to limit the virus.
I am immensely proud of Northern Ireland. We are resilient. We are kind.
When our NHS staff needed encouragement, we all stepped up.
Six months on let’s give this one big push. For the sake of our brilliant NHS staff, our elderly and vulnerable let’s just be careful in our homes.
Keep washing your hands regularly and often, maintain social distancing and wear face coverings where this is not possible.
Download the Covid-19 app, act promptly on advice about testing and follow the guidance on quarantining to the letter.
Northern Ireland has been through a great deal down the decades. We have risen to the challenge many times before. We did so to great effect earlier in the year, and we ask you to join with us as we endeavour to do so again.
Together we must drive down the virus, so Northern Ireland can get back to its best and the place that we all want it to be.
The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said:
Good evening to all of you watching from home.
Let me begin by expressing my heartfelt sympathy to all those who have lost loved ones over this difficult period.
I want to acknowledge the loss and hurt that you are feeling.
Tonight we are taking the opportunity to speak directly to all our community as the Leaders of the Executive to outline where things stand with the Coronavirus pandemic.
We find ourselves in a very serious position.
Our Public Health Agency and the Department of Health have been monitoring the course of the pandemic around the clock, and have been advising Ministers on the most up-to-date evidence.
We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread of the virus across the community.
In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases rise further.
We are in a critical period in our response to this pandemic, which continues to escalate globally.
Our priority is protecting our people and saving lives.
That is paramount.
We cannot afford to let our guard down.
We understand that you are tired of living your daily lives with restrictions on coming together with family, friends and neighbours.
As a mother and daughter I understand this reality. My family are worried too.
We are asking for your continued patience so that we prevent more people becoming severely ill, take the pressure off our health service, and all those that care for us.
Tonight we are sounding the alarm bells loud and clear throughout our society – and asking you to go back to basics.
Your health and the health of your loved ones is in your hands.
Maintain social distancing;
Wash your hands often;
Work from home if you can;
Wear a face covering in shops and on public transport;
Download the StopCovid app;
Only share information which is from reliable sources.
If you are displaying symptoms book a test and self-isolate in line with the guidance.
The choices you make could be the difference between life and death for those closest to you in the days and weeks ahead.
Tonight we stand here united as your political leaders.
We are appealing for the whole community to play your part by uniting in solidarity to suppress further transmission of this deadly virus.
We have a window of opportunity over the next 2-3 weeks, in which we can, by our actions, slow the virus down.
Not to do so is to risk a worsening situation by mid-October onwards.
We want to absolutely avoid another complete lockdown in the coming weeks.
With you, we are trying to strike a balance of introducing limited restrictions while also living with the virus.
We are supporting efforts to re-open our economy, keeping people in jobs, and most importantly keeping our children at school.
All of this must be done safely.
The public health authorities are being monitored closely.
Your health and safety is our number one priority.
We live on an island, and we need a co-ordinated all-island approach.
Dublin knows that, we in Belfast know that and London knows that.
We need full co-operation on this island, and between these islands in our fightback against Covid.
This island is a single epidemiological unit and we must maximise the protection that affords us.
We have come a long way in the last 7 months.
We have asked a lot of you.
You have made great sacrifices.
And we thank you for that.
This is also a time when we need to have hope.
Global efforts are well underway to develop a vaccine.
As every day passes we understand more about the virus.
Treatments are advancing.
And we look forward to the day in the not too distant future when we can all live without the threat of coronavirus.
And until then let us do everything that is within our power to stop the spread of Coronavirus throughout this island.
Stay safe, save lives.
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir