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Thanks to the people of NI for your continued efforts to keep us all safe

Michael Gove


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Social distancing markers on the floor of a supermarket (Victoria Jones/PA)

Social distancing markers on the floor of a supermarket (Victoria Jones/PA)

PA

Social distancing markers on the floor of a supermarket (Victoria Jones/PA)

Are you a coronavirus hero? Are you the Mary Peters, or - for younger readers - the Carl Frampton of our rearguard action against coronavirus? In all likelihood you are.

Because although heroic status is assured if you work in the health service or a care home, or if you collect bins, deliver essential supplies to the vulnerable, work in a supermarket or food distribution, or are teaching children remotely, everyone else is also playing their part - by staying at home wherever possible, and keeping their distance from others to curb the spread of the infection.

And that means there are literally thousands of heroes across Northern Ireland who, in the month since the government imposed social distancing measures, have pulled together, stayed behind their front door, and saved lives in the process.

The sacrifices you have made during the course of the crisis - the families you have not seen; the work you have turned down; the weddings you have postponed - have not been in vain.

While this invisible killer has brought agony to those who have lost their lives, and to the families who mourn them, we have, together, flattened the coronavirus curve.

Thanks to a mighty effort across the whole of the United Kingdom, we are cresting the infection peak without health and care services being overwhelmed.

This team spirit can be seen whereever you look - whether at financial support, protecting frontline workers, treating the sick or ramping up testing.

The UK is working as one to get through the pandemic. And it is the same spirit that will carry us through the next phase as, together, we look cautiously ahead to adjusting current distancing measures.

Local efforts on the ground - for instance by food company Moy Park in Craigavon, which is providing 1,000 meals a week to people most in need - is matched by sustained co-operation at government level.

We promised to do everything in our power to help this country defeat coronavirus while also protecting people, their families, and their jobs and livelihoods.

And the great co-operation on the ground is matched at government level.

The First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland along with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have attended COBRA meetings since the outbreak of coronavirus to co-ordinate the response, and we are working very closely with the devolved governments as we consider changes to the social distancing measures across the UK - again, when the scientific advice shows it is the right time to do so safely.

The Northern Ireland Executive has received an extra £1.2bn in additional funding from the UK Government to bolster public services and offer additional support to staff in these uniquely difficult times for our country and the world.

That is on top of the £330bn in UK-wide business support schemes launched by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, including government-backed loans and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

For the protection of workers, over five million items of personal protective equipment have been delivered by the UK Government to Northern Ireland, enabling our vital frontline workers to care for patients and the public in hospitals and local communities without compromising their own health.

And I was particularly delighted that last week we also reached agreement on a ferry support package worth up to £17m for five vital routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland - enabling essential freight, including food and medical supplies, to get where it needs to go.

A similar package is being developed to support crucial air passenger services between Belfast City Airport, City of Derry Airport and London.

How long will these interim measures be needed? It is entirely understandable that people want to know if the end is in sight.

Realistically, however, round the world we will be living with this disease for some time to come.

Tragically, 299 people in Northern Ireland have lost their lives to this invisible killer - and it is thanks to all your efforts that the figure is not higher still.

Only once we are reassured on our five key tests can we safely adjust the distancing regime: the NHS's ability to cope; a sustained fall in daily death rates; reliable scientific data showing the infection rate falling to manageable levels; sufficient testing capacity and PPE to meet future demand - and, finally, the confidence that any changes would not risk a second peak of infections that would overwhelm the NHS and undo much of our work to date.

For the country as a whole, for our public health and economy, that would be the worst outcome.

So once again I want to pass on huge thanks for everything you have done so far, but also for everything you will continue to do, to keep our nation safe.

Michael Gove is a Conservative MP and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Belfast Telegraph