Autumn And Winter Covid Contingency Plan Published

The Northern Ireland Executive has produced their Autumn and Winter Covid contingency plan, which encourages people to continue to make "safer choices".

The plan states that the goal of keeping the business and leisure sectors open and minimizing impacts on citizens over the coming months are best achieved "if we all continue to follow the basics, and if as many people as possible take the vaccines".

A new public information campaign around the end of this month will build on the need for "safer choices", as part of "our Social Contract".

Washing hands, limiting contacts where we can, self-isolating when we have symptoms or when asked to do so, giving contact details to help with tracing, and using the outdoors when we can, and letting fresh air in when we can't.

A number of baseline measures are to be retained in the Autumn & Winter Plan. 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.

The Executive said: "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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