NI Executive agrees to bolster work-from-home guidance

People will be urged to work from home where possible as part of reinforced Covid measures agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.

Current Stormont advice for businesses to prepare for a return to office working is to be changed to encourage employers to support those staff who can work from home to do so.

Ministers met on Tuesday morning to sign off on a range of recommendations made by Health Minister Robin Swann.

They had adjourned discussions on the proposals on Monday evening and Mr Swann made some revisions to the plan overnight.

It is understood an initial proposal that would have seen ministers urge people who worked from home at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 to do so again has been dropped.

The PA news agency understands that some ministers had expressed concern that advice could cause confusion as many sectors that were closed in March 2020 are now open and many workers do not have the option of remaining at home.

Much of the plan agreed by ministers focuses on reinforcing messaging around public health measures, such as face masking wearing, hand hygiene and limiting social contacts.

With that in mind, it is understood First Minister Paul Givan, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Mr Swann will take part in a rare joint press conference at Stormont later on Tuesday afternoon.

The Executive has also tasked its Covid taskforce to examine issues around enforcement of mask-wearing and also look at the potential of setting up a scores-on-the-doors type system to rate businesses on their compliance with rules and mitigations.

After the meeting, Mr Givan tweeted: “The Executive has engaged constructively & agreed a number of measures that will step up our collective efforts against the spread of Covid.

“Whilst there is differences across society on the most effective measures, we can all make a contribution that will help make a difference.”

On Monday, Mr Swann told the Assembly that some hospitality venues may be asked to close their doors over Christmas if Covid-19 cases continue to increase.

Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Awards
Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

He stressed that closures were not inevitable.

A Covid certification system for hospitality businesses is being rolled out next week. Fines for non-compliance will be become enforceable two weeks after that on December 13.

Under the compulsory certification scheme, people wishing to gain entry to designated venues would need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.