Coronavirus crisis: Update from Stormont Executive

NORTHERN Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the last 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.

Belfast City Hospital’s tower block was designated by the Department of Health as Northern Ireland’s first Nightingale Hospital ahead of the anticipated surge in Covid-19 cases.

The 230 bed facility will be staffed by healthcare staff drawn from across Northern Ireland and further critical care capacity is planned at Altnagelvin Hospital and the Ulster Hospital.

Based on surge modelling, the Department is continuing to assess the potential of the Eikon Centre at Balmoral Park, Maze as a second Nightingale facility to further increase bed capacity later this year in preparation for any further wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Robin Swann has again stressed the importance of everyone sticking firmly to social distancing measures now and in the coming weeks to limit the number of cases coming to the health frontline when the first wave reaches its peak.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill took part in a conference call with the Mental Health Policy Group, comprising health professionals and charities, and discussed issues raised by the Covid-19 crisis.

The Executive is conscious at this time that the Covid-19 emergency may present new and difficult challenges for those who suffer from anxiety and other mental health issues.

Support is available to those suffering from mental health challenges and anyone in distress or despair is encouraged to contact the 24/7 Lifeline helpline on 0808 808 8000 where trained counsellors are available to help.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots has called on farmers and land managers to halt all prescribed burning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to reduce additional pressures on Northern Ireland’s emergency services.

Prescribed burning is a method of land management that usually takes place in mid-March to mid-April to improve game habitat and the quality of grazing in areas of upland dominated by heather.

However Minister Poots and Assistant Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Alan Walmsley have called for them to be halted until September 1 because of the potential danger of wildfires being started.

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