The past few weeks have been unimaginable. I want to extend my sympathies to all those who have lost their loved ones. To those in hospital fighting covid-19. To those at home – waiting, watching and wondering when this will end.
I want to say to you – that we are with you. The extension of the lockdown this week was agreed by your Executive, not lightly – but to protect you, to protect patients and our precious NHS.
While we cannot yet say when this will end – I want to assure the public that by your actions, your sacrifice, you are saving lives.
Addressing the unique challenges presented by coronavirus has required us all to work together putting the protection of our people first.
I’m proud of my Department and our frontline workers – supporting the health fight back – we are keeping you safe on the roads, supplying clean drinking water and getting essential workers to and from work. These citizens are invaluable and deserve a huge thanks.
As we work our way through this, my Department and our partners will continue to play their part and I will offer any support I can to aid in the fight back.
Earlier this week I confirmed that NI Water will delay the issuing of bills to its non-domestic customers and defer an annual tariff increase. In recent weeks, I have also relaxed the requirements relating to drivers’ hours to secure and maintain deliveries and movement of all important goods that people in our communities, in particular vulnerable people, need at this time.
My department has also offered the use of MOT centres for COVID-19 testing, our buildings for storing vital PPE and our sites for the decontamination of ambulances. These are further examples of the partnership working between my Department and the Department of Health. Each of these interventions, no matter how small they may seem, are playing a vital part in the combined effort to fight this deadly virus.
As you would expect, our public transport network continues to play a vital role in facilitating essential travel. Recently I announced that Translink will provide free travel for health workers during this time. Translink also continues to offer its assistance to all the Health and Social Care Trusts for passenger transport or delivery services. Northern Ireland’s Community Transport Operators are also at the fore in assisting with the delivery of prepaid groceries, prescriptions, food parcels or fulfilling essential journeys and I am pleased to have been able to support them in doing that.
Our ports and airports, as our key gateways, obviously cannot maintain their regular schedules and these impacts are also being felt across ferry companies and hauliers, with resulting pressures developing on the wider supply chain into and out of the North.
For a number of weeks I have been working with colleagues right across these islands to find a way forward. Just yesterday I raised directly with the Chancellor the need for an urgent ports package and critical support for our ferries and our hauliers.
Make no mistake, these services are required to deliver vital services, to provide medicine and food. I can assure the public that I will continue to do all I can to secure our critical supply lines during this difficult time.
In recent days, we have seen positive signs that social distancing measures are working and we are seeing less traffic on our roads, so many of us are playing our part and staying at home. But we cannot be complacent.
As we move into the weekend and with the prospect of further good weather, I am asking you to hold fast.
The advice is clear, stay at home to save lives. All of us can and must play our part.
Notes to editors:
- Health advice and information on government services is available at: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus and www.nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus
- All media queries should be directed to the Department for Infrastructure Press Office at email@example.com Out of hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.
- Follow the Department on Twitter @deptinfra and on Facebook @DepartmentforInfrastructure
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