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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Statement on Executive's Autumn/Winter Covid-19 Contingency Plan

The Northern Ireland Executive has published its Autumn/Winter Covid-19 Contingency Plan. The full Executive Office statement is below.


In our Pathway Out of Restrictions, published on 2 March the Executive made commitments on how we would approach our decision making.

We undertook that our decisions would be made on four overarching principles. Our decisions would be evidence-based, necessary, proportionate and sustainable.

As our Social Contract, we said we would regularly and carefully consider what mitigations are required, and for how long, in order to reduce transmission.

We recommitted to the strategic priorities we had set ourselves at the start of the pandemic. At the front of our minds has been the health and wellbeing of our citizens, our societal and community wellbeing, and our economic wellbeing and revitalizing the economy.

In our Pathway we set out the steps we could envisage taking and, since March, we have worked through these carefully and cautiously across our key themes. The Pathway illustrated the steps for Home and Community; Education and Young People; Culture, Heritage and Entertainment; Sports and Leisure Activities; Worship and Ceremonies; Travel and Tourism; Work; Retail and Services; and Hospitality.

We envisaged that these steps would bring us to a place where there might be a few remaining issues for the Executive to address.

Throughout this year, the Executive has taken regular stock of the situation and the available data, and impacts on our people, in line with our key principles.

Executive decisions since the Pathway was published

Between 1 April and 31 October, 84 easements of restrictions have been delivered or agreed. We have, as we promised, moved through the pathway out of restrictions carefully and cautiously at all times.

We have been driven by the data and also the impacts which restrictions have had on our economy, our people and families, and the wider societal impacts.

We have been following very closely the decisions taken in nearby jurisdictions but at all times our decisions have been focused on delivering the best outcomes for people here.

We understand that some people will have wanted us to move more quickly, while others have been content with the careful and cautious approach. We hope we have built confidence on the part of our people to exercise safer choices for themselves, and we have been very grateful for all the steps that have been taken to adhere to the public health advice.

Covid remains with us. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life and we need to continue to find ways to manage the situation.

Today’s context, Autumn Winter

Our case numbers and other key indicators remain very high with an average of more than 1,200 positive cases per day over the past seven days; almost 350 confirmed COVID patients in hospital with 33 in intensive care. And we are now entering into the Autumn/Winter period where, as we know from last year, Covid thrives. Last year we did not see a significant flu season but we cannot guarantee it will be the same this year. Indeed, we must plan on the basis that we will see a flu season this year.

At this time 82.3% of our citizens aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine. Our vaccination rates are very good but there is still room for improvement. The vaccination rate for 30-39 year olds is 79.5% and this falls to 75% for 18-29 year olds. For those who have not yet had their first jab, please do so as soon as you can. Every person who takes the jab makes a difference to themselves, their families and their communities.

Everyone who takes the second jab further builds their own protection and those around them including potentially vulnerable loved ones.

And the booster jab is being rolled out and we will continue to promote this because it makes a difference to how we will get through the Autumn and Winter.

Too many families have lost loved ones to this dreadful disease. There are family members and friends who are still grieving and many of our citizens continue to feel the impact of the pandemic. We must all do what we can to control the spread of COVID. We cannot put this highly enough. Every jab matters.

In relation to the decisions we took on 7 October, we have looked carefully at what can be done now and a number of easements were made on 14 October. We have also looked at restrictions which can be lifted at the end of October.

In preparing for the Executive discussions, our officials liaised closely with key sectors and we were very grateful for the support and attendance at those events by CMO and CSA. We have listened carefully to the views of the hospitality, arts and culture sector; to our business community leaders; and to the Faiths Leaders.

Our decisions were taken in the context of Covid-19 data and mindful of the economic and societal benefits of opening up what we can, when we can. For the record:

From 14 October the Executive agreed:

• Further relaxations around the numbers permitted in private dwellings and a move away from the maximum number of people allowed to gather from 15 from four households to an overall cap of 30; and

• The requirement for audience members to be seated when watching performances in indoor venues would be removed.

The regulations in relation to large house parties and raves remain in place and are still not permitted.

The Executive has also signalled its intention to introduce a further package of relaxations from October 31. Over the next few weeks, further work will be carried out with the sectors to prepare for appropriate mitigations to be put in place in advance of the regulations being lifted.

From October 31:

• The requirement to be seated in hospitality to drink and eat food will be removed;

• The restriction on indoor dancing will be lifted;

• The need to maintain social distancing in hospitality settings, such as pubs and restaurants will move to guidance; and

• Nightclubs will be permitted to reopen.

These relaxations rely on the adoption and implementation of measures that will help reduce the transmission of the virus and allow people to gather more safely in settings that would otherwise be considered higher risk.

Extensive engagement has taken place with the arts, entertainment and hospitality sectors and there has been a positive response to taking additional steps to ensure the safety of customers, staff and the wider community.

It is strongly recommended that venues and event organisers require individuals to demonstrate their COVID-status through proof of vaccination, negative lateral flow test, or natural immunity by way of positive PCR test within the previous 180 days.

Some venues are already implementing these measures to help keep people safe and provide assurances to those attending their venues that all appropriate measures are being taken to protect them.

Autumn/Winter contingency decisions

In respect of our Autumn and Winter Covid contingency plan, we start with the need to keep sectors open to the fullest possible extent and, hopefully in totality.

Our schools and further education sectors are back and we will want to protect that, along with protecting our health service. We want to keep our business and leisure sectors open, and we want to minimize impacts on citizens over the coming months.

We have the best chance of doing this if we all continue to follow the basics, and if as many people as possible take the vaccines.

Members will see a new public information campaign around the end of this month which will build on the need for all of us to keep making safer choices. This is part of our Social Contract. Washing our hands, limiting our contacts where we can, self-isolating when we have symptoms or when asked to do so, giving our contact details to help with tracing, and using the outdoors when we can, and letting fresh air in when we can’t.

While the importance of personal responsibility cannot be overstated, through our Autumn Winter Plan we have retained some baseline measures. These include –

• The retention of a legal requirement for face coverings in crowded indoor settings;

• The retention of a focus on flexible and hybrid working to reduce the number of social contacts that take place in work settings – recognising that employers are well placed to engage with their workforce on the model that best suits their business;

• The continued legal requirement for risk assessments to be carried out in certain settings and for visitor and attendee details to be recorded to support the work of the Test, Trace and Protect system.

The baseline measures reflect advice from SAGE that early ‘low cost’ interventions may forestall the need for more disruptive measures at a later stage.

In the event that case numbers rise sharply or hospital pressures become unsustainable the Autumn Winter paper identifies a number of potential contingency measures which include –

• more focused communications to emphasise the risk and the need for everyone to act immediately;

• The potential to deploy COVID status certification in higher risk settings if considered appropriate and necessary;

• A strengthening of arrangements for self-isolation for close contacts; and

• A re-imposition of a legal requirement for minimum social distancing in prescribed settings.

Social contract, what we need citizens to do

We are very mindful that the Covid pandemic has been with us for 19 months and we appreciate that it has been incredibly difficult for everyone. The vast majority of people continue to do the right things and we are thankful.

There are some basics we need citizens to continue to do. And we want to explain why we are asking this of you. We understand that the vaccine programme has given us all hope. We ask you to remember that each act of personal adherence to the public health advice, however small, makes a big difference.

So, we want to set out what we are asking of you. To stay safe, you should:

• Get the vaccine when you are offered it;

• Wear a face covering in crowded or indoor settings;

• Wash your hands regularly, and cover your nose and mouth if coughing or sneezing;

• Self-isolate and take a PCR test if you have symptoms;

• Take regular tests if you don’t have symptoms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus;

• Meet outside if you can, and open windows when indoors;

• Keep your distance from people not in your group; and

• Work from home where practicable, or do a mixture of home and office based working.

Throughout this pandemic we have adopted a cautious approach to the relaxation of restrictions as we have sought to carefully balance the health and well-being of our citizens with societal, community and economic considerations. The Autumn Winter Plan is a continuation of this approach.

The efforts that have been made by so many in recent months to drive up vaccination rates and step up compliance with mitigations do seem to be working. It is vital that we don’t let up. We must maintain our focus and collective endeavor. All of us have a part to play in keeping transmission under control.

Together we can keep ourselves, and each other, safe. If we all do our part – as organisations, employers and individuals – we can look forward to an autumn winter period with fewer restrictions than at any time during the pandemic.


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