Social Distancing

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 4th May 2021.

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Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 4th May 2021

T2. Mr McCrossan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister, after adding his voice to those of other Members in wishing the First Minister well for the future on whatever path she takes, albeit there are things on which they have not agreed, she has always put the interests of her constituency first and has done her best to serve those whom she represents, whether, given that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this week revealed that he believes that social distancing could end by 21 June, a similar approach is anticipated for here and to state whether the Executive have had discussions in relation to that. (AQT 1252/17-22)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. That has not been discussed. I noted Boris Johnson's commentary. However, at this point, the Health Minister has not brought such a proposal to the Executive for discussion. I am sure that we will have to have that discussion in due course.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the joint First Minister for her answer. What is her assessment of what Boris Johnson said, given that there are still serious concerns about infection increasing in our community? Also, as Mr Sheehan pointed out, some of those who have received vaccinations are still testing positive and ending up in ICU. Was what Boris Johnson said premature and unhelpful?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I have not always agreed with Boris Johnson's approach to the COVID crisis. We make our decisions on the basis of advice from our public health team, and, at this time, there is no advice to suggest that this is an area in which we should make a change. Ultimately, that is where we want to get to, but it has to be done in a safe and steady way. It has to be done in a way that does not walk us into a corner from which we will have to reverse. We want to make sure that we make steady progress. Risks are still out there, and there are new variants. We need to be very careful. Let us continue to make progress and build on the positivity of where we are with the vaccination programme.

From an economic point of view, we understand that, in order to make hospitality businesses, for example, sustainable and profitable, they need to be able to get back to the numbers that they had prior to COVID. We want to get them there, too, but it will take a bit of time. We need to continue to make progress and take a steady-as-you-go approach over the next number of months.