Members attend Council COVID briefing update
09 October 2020
Elected members of Derry City and Strabane District Council area today attended an online COVID-19 Briefing where they received an update in relation to the additional restrictions that have been placed across the Council area.
A summary of the recent statistics across the Council area, reflecting the exponential increase across the Council area, was provided, including details on how the positive infection rate had now exceeded 700 cases per 100k population.
A detailed summary on the Health Protection Regulations that came into place for the Derry City and Strabane District Council from midnight on Monday, was outlined to members, where it reiterated that the measures imposed by the NI Executive will be reviewed every seven days, with the next review expected 14 days after the regulations come into force.
The key directive from the Executive is around the message that “a person shall not during the active period, in the designated district, organise, operate or participate in indoor gatherings which consists of persons from more than one household.” Members were advised that this referred to gatherings consisting of two or more people doing something together for a common purpose.
Details relating to some of the exemptions that are included in the guidelines were also outlined at the meeting. The exemptions include weddings, wedding receptions, funerals and post funeral gatherings, (existing restrictions and strict social distancing requirements continue to apply); services of worship in places of worship; indoor sport for individual training only (e.g. no exercise classes); workplaces where working from home is not possible; educational settings; managed youth and childcare services.
Members were reminded that hospitality venues can only remain open for take-away, delivery and outdoor dining only and wet pubs can serve customers outdoors only, with existing restrictions for outdoor settings continuing to apply, while hotels and bed and breakfasts can only provide services to residents as per previous restrictions. All museums, galleries and cultural attractions must remain closed and libraries can operate a call and collect service. Organised outdoor gatherings are permitted, for up to a maximum of 15 people only and there cannot be gatherings of more than 15 people even with a risk assessment. In relation to sports training and sporting events, they are exempt but they must take place without any spectators.
Members were given an overview of the level of business engagement and support that is being provided by the Council’s Business team. It included an overview of the latest funding announcement by the Finance Minister for businesses operating in this council area that states that between £400 and £600 per week will be made available to those in the hospitality sector, in addition to a 12 month rates holiday.
Members were informed that the details of businesses registered with the Council’s Environmental Health section were shared with the Department for Finance and the business team are assisting businesses with the application and to help explain some of the criteria in place. It is anticipated that monies will be available from next week. It was also explained that the fund is being made available initially for a two week period but will be extended should the restrictions remain in place across the Council area.
Members acknowledged the funding package but said more needed to be done to provide support and assistance to businesses who were suffering as a result of the restrictions. The Mayor Cllr Brian Tierney told members how he has today written to the UK Chancellor for the Exchequer highlighting the challenges facing businesses in the Council area and calling for additional financial support and an extension of the furlough scheme.
Discussions around enforcement and the proactive work Council is doing to engage with businesses and employers across the Council area was also outlined at the briefing.
Members heard how Council’s Environment Health teams have received 474 complaints in relation to the Health Protection NI regulations 2020 and that almost 200 visits have been carried out to date, offering advice on the regulations and assisting with risk assessments. Over 800 letters have been issued and while no fixed penalty notices were dispensed, the key approach is to engage, encourage and educate businesses, with enforcement as a last option.
Details of an MOU between PSNI and all 11 Councils was also outlined at the meeting. Members heard how the MOU is designed to ensure Councils and the PSNI work together collaboratively to protect public health. The MOU sets out the roles and responsibilities of each organisation. The PSNI currently remains the lead enforcement authority for licensed premises and around the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport, while Council is responsible for the enforcement of social distancing and risk assessments in the workplace.
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 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 by the Mayor, local MPs MLAs, sports personalities, community leaders and youth organisations have been viewed by almost 40k with an estimated reach of over 780k.
Members reiterated the importance of engaging with young people and looking at positive messaging to give people hope for the future and the need to highlight the positive work being done in local communities to provide help and support to the most vulnerable.
Details of a twice weekly Vlog by the Mayor was also outlined to members as a way of communicating key public health and council service messaging, and will be shared on all media platforms.
Members were reminded of some changes to Council services as a result of the new restrictions that 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 gym classes and households swims are not permitted.
Members heard how a small number of staff – 20 out of a workforce of 1,000 - have tested positive with a small number of staff self-isolating. 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 thanked officers for their work and 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 welcomed the fact that Council was continuing to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and groupings and said he would do all he could as Mayor to reinforce the public health messaging and to appeal to the public to adhere to the restrictions and guidelines to curb the current spread of the virus.