Council hosts COVID briefing update for elected mem
20 October 2020
Elected members of Derry City and Strabane District Council area today attended an online COVID-19 Briefing to receive an update in relation to further Government restrictions put in place by the NI Executive across Northern Ireland.
A summary of the recent statistics across the Council area, reflecting the slight decrease in numbers across the Council area, was provided, including details on how the last seven day positive infection rate was now 717.5 per 100k population.
A detailed summary on the two new sets of Health Protection Regulations that came into place across Northern Ireland for a four-week period was provided to members, where it was reiterated to them that the measures imposed by the NI Executive repeal the Derry Strabane Regulations, and includes the insertion of a new schedule two into the Number 2 COVID regulations.
Members were advised that under the new regulations, in relation to gatherings in private dwellings, no person may stay overnight in a place where they are not living. No gatherings are permitted indoors that consist of persons from more than one household and no gatherings are permitted outdoors in a private dwelling of more than six people. All of the above being subject to certain exemptions.
In terms of the restrictions on sporting events, members were advised that no indoor or outdoor sports are permitted but this doesn’t apply if all participants are elite athletes. The regulations permit individual training and one-to-one coaching and non-contact sporting for up to 15 people.
The restrictions on gatherings advise that there should be no indoor or outdoor gatherings of more than 15 people, however this does not apply to the workplace and where possible, people are advised to work from home. Marriages and funerals are permitted with restricted numbers of 25 people and places of worship are permitted to operate.
Members heard that in relation to the businesses that are subjected to closure, they include those involved in close contact services, museums and galleries, bingo halls, amusement arcades, camp sites and caravan parks for touring caravans as well as B&Bs, hotels and guest houses. In relation to the hospitality sector, the restrictions do not allow for the sale of food or drink for consumption on a premises, businesses can sell for takeaway with last orders at 23.00hrs and alcohol is only permitted to be sold up to 20.00hrs. Hotels can sell to residents, and the restrictions do not apply to food sold in canteens. Seating areas that are adjacent to premises are deemed part of the premises.
In terms of engagement and enforcement, members were reminded of the MOU that exists between PSNI and all 11 Councils to ensure they work together collaboratively to protect public health. The MOU sets out the roles and responsibilities of each organisation with the PSNI currently remaining the lead enforcement authority for licensed premises and around the wearing of face coverings, while Council is responsible for the enforcement of social distancing and risk assessments in the workplace. Members were advised that the main approach around enforcement continues to be around engagement, encouragement and educating businesses, with enforcement as a last option.
Members attending the online briefing were given an overview of the level of business engagement and support that is being provided by the Council’s Business team. They heard how Council is currently processing over 150 applications for DFC funded business recovery grants and, while the urban grants process is currently closed, rural grants applications remain open. Members were informed how the team are working on eight cluster applications for multiple businesses in specific streets and areas and that in addition to one-to-one business support for businesses impacted by the pandemic, a mentoring programme is available and a series of advice available as part of the business start-up programme.
An update in relation to the localised restriction scheme made available to local businesses that was announced by the Department for Finance was also provided at the meeting. Members heard how businesses will receive the following amounts for every two weeks they are closed – small businesses £1,600; medium businesses £2,400 and large businesses £3,200. Under the scheme, businesses that are eligible to apply include cafes, pubs and restaurants temporarily forced to close or limit their services to a takeaway; hotels and guest houses, close contact services and other businesses such as cinemas, galleries, bowling alleys etc.
The work being done by Council in terms of engagement with statutory partners was also outlined at the meeting including details of a multi-agency grouping, chaired by Council, that meets regularly to discuss the implications of the COVID situation with representations from WHST, PHA, PSNI, EA, NWRC, UU, CCI, DFC, DAERA, TEO, NIFRS and NIAS.
Members heard how Council had offered to help in terms of staff support and the use of its facilities and is continuing to play a key role in co-ordinating the public health messaging. In terms of providing advice on worker’s rights, the Council outlined how it is actively engaging with its local advice providers using DFC Financial Inclusion Fund to extend their opening hours while the Council marketing team are rolling out information leaflets and information and social media messaging.
Members welcomed this approach in view of recent issues with staff at Royal Mail and a local meat plant saying it was important that Council continues to encourage businesses to adhere to health and safety requirements to keep their staff safe. Members said it was important that support and advice was provided to all workers at difficult time.
Members heard about the positive communications strategy being rolled out by Council in partnership with a wide range of partners to reinforce the public health message and to reach out to all audiences to urge them to keep each other safe. Joint video messaging over the past week by the Mayor, sports personalities, youth organsiations and schools have been widely viewed and shared.
Members heard how a new Communications Sub Group has been set up by the NI Executive Communications team that will include communication leads from all of the 11 councils and supporting agencies to look at a collaborative approach to getting the message out. A key objective of this group is to look at messages of hope for the future, particularly for our youth audience, and how they can explore innovative ways at communicating with this audience.
Members heard how the Council’s Marketing team are involved in producing 10 billboards, and a series of digital screen messaging across the Council area as well as rural bus stop messaging to help reinforce the public health messages and that there is ongoing positive engagement through the Local Growth Partnership groups to help push out the health promotion messaging.
Members were also reminded of the changes to Council services as a result of the recent restrictions. They include the closure to the public of the Guildhall, Tower Museum in Derry, and Alley Theatre in Strabane, with arrangements in place to facilitate risk assessed weddings at the Guildhall that are compliant with NI guidelines. In terms of leisure, all tier one leisure centres remain open for individual activities only – ie gym and lane swimming only, while all group activity and classes and households swims are not permitted. In relation to outdoor pitches, these are now restricted to permit elite sports only (Melvin 3G and the Brandywell).
Members heard how a small number of staff – approximately 35 out of a total workforce of 1,000 - have tested positive with almost 50 self-isolating, 20 of which are self -isolating and able to work from home.
Reassurance was given that all measures to protect staff are in place and regular engagement with staff and unions is ongoing.
Members were reminded that every effort would be made to retain all essential services and that possible impacts on services was inevitable over the coming days and weeks as managers adapt to new working practices and possible further staff issues.
Mayor Cllr Brian Tierney acknowledged the work of Council staff and thanked them for their continued efforts to keep Council services operational in difficult circumstances. He urged the public for their continued co-operation and patience and acknowledged the efforts of all Council staff, particularly those working on the frontline.
He added that he will continue to reinforce the public health messaging at every opportunity and engage in a proactive manner to encourage to adhere to the restrictions and guidelines to help reduce the spread of the virus across the Council area.