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Ministers Announce Expansion of Testing for All Post-primary Pupils

Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir have announced that the programme of regular testing for Covid-19 in post-primary schools is to be expanded to include all pupils.

Since March, regular testing using Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests has been made available to older students in years 12 to 14 in schools and in Education Other Than at School (EOTAS) centres . All school staff (including teaching and support staff) have also been offered the tests.

Starting this week, the offer of twice-weekly testing will be expanded to pupils in years 8 to 11, providing further reassurance to the school community and families.

Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the expansion of the schools testing programme. He said: “The aim of testing is to identify asymptomatic individuals so they and their close contacts can be isolated, therefore breaking chains of transmission in the school and beyond.

“To date, the programme has successfully identified a significant number of positive cases in schools, enabling contact tracing and helping to minimise the risk of transmission. Asymptomatic testing should be used in addition to the range of other measures in place in schools and wider society such as social distancing, hand hygiene and face coverings.

“With our successful vaccine programme, we’ve made tremendous progress in our fight against Covid-19, but we must remain cautious and take every step possible to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Testing for school staff and pupils is twice weekly, three to four days apart, using Lateral Flow Devices which provide a result within approximately 30 minutes.

Education Minister Peter Weir said: “I welcome today’s announcement to extend Lateral Flow Device testing opportunities to all post-primary pupils. I have been working closely with Minister Swann throughout this pandemic to ensure that my Department can provide the most up to date guidance to schools, taking account of all available public health advice. 

“Regular testing of staff and pupils, who do not have symptoms of Covid-19, using the self-test Lateral Flow Device (LFD) is an important additional mitigation available to schools. The purpose of asymptomatic testing is to find individuals who are infected but do not realise it. They can then be advised to isolate so reducing the risk of them unwittingly spreading infection in the school and elsewhere.

“Post-primary schools are encouraged to make use of their stock of LFD kits to extend the offer to all pupils in Years 8-11 for the remaining weeks of term.  Further stock is available from the Education Authority if required.” 

Individuals who receive a positive result from an LFD test will have to isolate along with members of their households from the time of their positive LFD result. A confirmation PCR test will be required for everyone who tests positive on LFD. If the PCR test result is negative, the individual and their household can end the isolation period and return to school as normal. If the PCR test result is positive. the individual and their household and all other close contacts should complete a full 10 days of self-isolation.

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New Measures to Support Childcare Providers

Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen today announced a further extension to two Covid-19 childcare support funds.

This includes a third phase of the Childcare Sustainability Fund for the period 1 April to 30 June 2021 and the Childcare Covid-19 Temporary Closure Fund from 1 April to 30 September 2021.

The Minister said: “I am pleased to announce a further extension of the financial support available to the childcare sector as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. These schemes will supplement approximately £30m of emergency funding which has already been provided to the childcare sector up to March 2021.

“The Covid-19 Childcare Sustainability Fund will provide vital financial support for eligible registered childcare providers who are continuing to incur additional costs while operating within Covid-19 guidance and a reduced demand for services during this recovery phase. 

“While the closure of childcare providers remains very low, the Childcare Covid-19 Temporary Closure Fund will minimise the financial impact on childcare providers who have been forced to temporarily suspend their services due to a Covid related incident within their provision.”

The Temporary Closure Fund will also support parents, as funding is only available to those childcare providers that do not charge parents while their provision is temporarily suspended due to Covid-19 cases.

The Minister concluded: “The continuation of this funding during these final stages of recovery and easing of restrictions, recognises the vital role that childcare providers play in supporting the economy and supporting families.   I want to thank the childcare sector for its continued dedication to maintaining services during these challenging times.”

The two extended Covid-19 support funds open from 18 June 2021 for applications from eligible daycare, school-aged childcare settings, childminders, crèches and playgroups. Eligible childcare providers will be able to apply for funding via Early Years – the organisation for young children website.

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Belfast Pride Release Statement Regarding This Year’s Events

Belfast Pride have today released a statement regarding this year’s event. Their statement can be found below.

Belfast Pride is the main event of the year for the LGBT + community in Belfast and our biggest platform to protest for our rights and to celebrate our identities. We want to be on the streets with the rest of our
community celebrating advances on Equality issues and protesting for Trans Rights, to end Conversion Therapy and challenge hate and discrimination.

Belfast Pride will be happening this year and although things have moved on from last year, we’re sorry to say that there hasn’t been enough progress to allow the large scale events like the Belfast Pride Parade and Party in the Square to safely happen this year.

The health and wellbeing of our wonderful, diverse community matters and we’re not prepared to put people at risk. It’s great that some smaller events can happen within the restrictions and our community groups and our community venues are already busy planning.

Belfast Pride will be online and in person from Friday 23rd July – Sunday 1st August with Pride Day on Saturday 31st July.

We had been holding out in hope for the announcement of easing of restrictions on June 10111, hoping that this wou ld allow the main events of Pride Day to happen but the guidelines and the timelines leave too much uncertainty to allow progress and the detail matters with public safety.

It has been frustrating trying to find ways to make the Belfast Pride Parade and Party in the Square happen safely as the proud, diverse and dedicated team of volunteers who make up Team Pride want nothing more than to play their part in delivering Belfast Pride festival for our community.

We have been working with the PSNI, Parades Commission, Belfast City Council and other agencies to try to plan for safe events but we can’t yet safely bring 55,000 people on to the streets of Belfast for Pride Day. We need to prevent any chance of infection that could be attributed to Pride and anything that would adversely affect our community as a whole

We still need the visibility that Belfast Pride brings and we have been discussing smaller scale physical events with our community partners and supporters and we want to hear your ideas for how we can best make an impact to safely mark Pride this year. Despite the ongoing restrictions, we want a programme full of colour, diversity and Pride.

We hope that Belfast Pride will be back in full next year – we all deserve the biggest, most diverse and best Pride yet but we can still bring the Pride rainbow to Belfast this year.

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