Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 Response, meeting on Thursday, 15 April 2021

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Alex Maskey (Chairperson)
Dr Caoimhe Archibald
Ms Clare Bailey
Ms Paula Bradley
Ms Paula Bradshaw
Miss Nicola Brogan
Mr Robbie Butler
Mrs Pam Cameron
Mr Gerry Carroll
Mr Alan Chambers
Mr Colm Gildernew
Mr Paul Givan
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr Daniel McCrossan
Mr Colin McGrath
Mr Justin McNulty
Mr Robin Newton
Mr John O'Dowd
Mr Matthew O'Toole
Mr Pat Sheehan
Mr Christopher Stalford
Mr John Stewart
Ms Claire Sugden


Mrs O'Neill, deputy First Minister
Mrs Foster, First Minister

Ministerial Statement: The Executive Office

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Members, I am sorry for the delays. You will be aware that I have spoken to the party Whips this afternoon. We were advised that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister would be here at 5:00 pm and we had hoped to have the statement in advance of that so that members would have time to read it. All that I can do at the moment is suspend the meeting until the First Minister and the deputy First Minister arrive.

As soon as we have the statement in our possession, I will contact all members to advise them when the meeting will resume, which, hopefully, will be fairly shortly, even if I have to truncate the half an hour that members are entitled to have in order to read the document. If you read some of the media reports, a fair amount of stuff is already out there. Whether it is true or not — who knows?

We will have to suspend. I apologise for that.

Mr Stalford: On a point of order, Chairperson.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): We do not take points of order in a Committee meeting.

Mr Stalford: Maybe you will indulge me. [Laughter.]

As an elected Member, I think that it is really poor that Assembly Members are getting more information from the Twitter feeds of certain BBC journalists than they are from the Executive. I hope that you will highlight that with the Executive, because it makes this place look really bad in a situation like this.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): It is fair to say that things have been particularly bad over the past few days in that regard. It is very disrespectful to all Members and also to the wider public because they are hearing information in a filtered way and certainly not from official sources. It is very disappointing that people continue to do that. There seems to have been a mad flurry over the past couple of days, which has been more than usual. However, that may just be a symptom of some of the other problems that are about the place.

We will suspend for now. I had thought of contacting one of the journalists you mentioned to see at what time we should reconvene, but I thought better of it. [Laughter.]

Mr McGrath: It is already on Twitter. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Yes, it will be on Twitter anyway.

I will contact everybody immediately we get the statement. Thank you.

The Committee suspended at 5.05 pm and resumed at 5.41 pm.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): I welcome members back to the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 Response. I welcome the First Minister and deputy First Minister to the meeting of the Committee. I invite the Ministers to make their statement, which should be heard without interruption. Following the statement, there will be an opportunity for members to ask questions.

Mrs Foster (The First Minister): We are, of course, mindful that we remain in national mourning. We wish to make a short public statement.

The Executive met today to discuss the COVID-19 situation. We reached some important decisions, and we feel that it is right to share the details first with MLA colleagues via the Ad Hoc Committee. Colleagues will know that today marks the first formal review under our pathway out of restrictions. We have reviewed the current situation, measured the risks and looked at the health, economic and societal data. We have been mindful of steps taken elsewhere and have taken our decisions on what is best for us here at this time.

We have taken a series of decisions in the interests of families, young people and children, in the interests of well-being and in the interests of our economy. We are bringing forward a balanced package of relaxations that will restore many of the familiar aspects of everyday life that have been missed dearly over recent times. There will be more to do and more decision points to come, but this is a landmark day as we step forward, firmly and with confidence, on our pathway to recovery.

All generations across society have coped with the most difficult of times, and we are proud of the way that the people of Northern Ireland have pulled together to save lives. The everyday positive choices made by so many have reduced the transmission of the deadly virus to the point where we are able to roll back a significant number of restrictions. We are doing so in a careful and considered way, taking account of the prevailing health situation and the robust mitigation measures that can be relied upon to help keep people safe.

We must also stress that while we take important decisions today, the virus is still with us. It is still dangerous, and we cannot drop our guard. People are still infected, hospitals are still receiving patients and, unfortunately, people are still at risk of serious illness and death. We ask everyone to be mindful. Step out, but step carefully. Please continue with the public health basics: wash your hands, wear your face covering, maintain distance and get fresh air around you.

The Executive discussed the need to reflect on the strategic context for our decisions. We are incredibly proud of our vaccines programme. To everyone who has responded to the invitations to take the vaccine, we thank you for doing that in the wider interests of your family and community.

Please remember that the vaccine does not give you superpowers, but that it is a vital weapon in our fight against the virus. We continue to ask everyone to take up the jab when their turn comes. The logistical operations for the delivery of the vaccines are truly humbling, and we again want to thank everyone involved in that, from planning through to delivery. It is a truly impressive operation, to which we owe a great deal.

We are mindful that schools returned fully this week. We recognise the incredible efforts of everyone in the education sector, as well as parents and young people. This is where we need to be: children and young people engaged in their education, socialising in positive and constructive ways, seeing their friends in safe environments, investing in their futures and working towards their life aspirations. That is the future that we all want for our young people.

We have looked at the risks in different settings, whether that be inside or outdoors. We have agreed next steps that we trust will take us forward in a hopeful and positive direction. We have received advice from our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) and, as ever, we remain grateful to them for their professional advice.

Our decisions today are aimed at lifting restrictions where we can. We cannot do everything that people want us to. We are sorry about that and we know that it will be disappointing for some. We will pay constant attention to the steps needed to keep us moving forward. That is an absolute commitment across the parties in the Executive. The Executive have agreed that, alongside the decisions that we have made today, we will set out a series of steps that we wish to take next, if the conditions permit. We will do so with the clear understanding that we will remain driven by data and not by dates, in the knowledge that we have a clear commitment to this place and to our citizens to keep these steps under review, and in the knowledge that we will ratify these indicative dates only if the prevailing circumstances permit.

We have decided that the following activities can resume from 23 April 2021: driving instruction and theory tests; driving tests; close contact services, including training; access to outdoor visitor attractions, including outdoor activity centres; and equine-assisted therapy and learning, on an indoor and outdoor basis, in gatherings of up to 30 people. Outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated with a club will be extended to include squad training. Competitive outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated with a club will resume with participant numbers not exceeding 100 and with no spectators permitted. We have also agreed that static band practice or rehearsal will be permitted in agreed outdoor locations from 23 April.

From 30 April, we have agreed to increase the numbers permitted to gather in domestic settings outdoors to 15 people from no more than three households; reopen all retail; reopen and permit overnight stays in self-contained tourist accommodation for one household only; reopen unlicensed premises, outdoors only, with a maximum of six people from two households allowed per table, and with contact details being recorded; reopen licensed premises, including social clubs, outdoors only, with attendance limited to six people from no more than two households, and with contact details being recorded; remove the curfew on takeaways; remove the curfew on off-licences; permit individual activities in gyms, swimming pools and other large venues, including activities with a carer; and to allow one-to-one training and coaching if social-distancing measures are observed.

Mr Speaker, thank you for facilitating this statement.

Mrs O'Neill (The deputy First Minister): Thank you for the opportunity to update members as we take the next steps on our journey towards recovery.

This is a good day. It is a day of optimism. It is a day on which we can all look forward with the hope of a brighter future for all. There is no doubt that these have been the toughest of times for people, for families, for businesses, for workers and for communities. The restrictions have been necessary to suppress the virus, to save lives and to protect our health service, but they have taken their toll. It is incumbent on us all to move forward as soon as circumstances allow us to, but we must do so with caution and with the maximum mitigations in place to avoid the virus reclaiming its grip on our society.

Today is an important milestone, which signals that we are moving in the right direction. As a package of measures, we believe that the easements that we have agreed today will make a fundamental difference to people’s lives and well-being.

We have been under the latest form of lockdown for 110 days. We know that people need hope and need us to take some steps out of restrictions. As an Executive, we recognise the pressures and the restrictions and what they have done to our people, who have been unable to see family and friends or go out and about and do the things that matter to them. It is important to note the cautious first steps that we have already taken as an Executive. Colleagues will know that, even before today, we had reopened primary and post-primary schools; increased the number of people who can meet outdoors in a garden from six to 10 from two households; removed the "Stay at home" provision in the legislation, moving to a "Stay local" and "Work from home" message; allowed contactless click and collect to resume for non-essential retail; resumed outdoor sports training for up to 15 people; permitted marriage and civil partnership customers to view venues' facilities; reopened outdoor retail, including garden centres and car washes; and increased the number of people permitted to attend marriages, civil partnerships and funerals, now informed by a risk assessment of the venue. We can now build on all that and walk us into the further lifting of restrictions for the benefit of all in a safe and sustainable way.

We need to remain mindful of the COVID situation, and we continue to be advised on all relevant factors. We are not out of the woods. We face risks from variants of concern. We face risks from social gatherings. We need to always remain mindful of the public health guidance to wash our hands, wear face coverings and limit our social contacts. Fresh air and ventilation are part of our protection, and we understand the desire to get out and about. We ask everyone to consider how they will make use of the decisions that we have taken today as an Executive. Take care of yourselves and each other.

We have reached our decisions carefully. We know that everyone is looking for certainty on the next steps. At this stage, we cannot guarantee every step towards the end of this, but we want to give that hope. We want to set out where we wish to go next, on the basis that it must be kept under review. We know that people will understand that.

Unfortunately, COVID has no respect for timetables or dates. It has no respect for plans or undertakings. Therefore, I will set out our aspirations for the lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks and months on a basis that, I know, will be understood. The following is an indicative date — a date by which we hope to be able to make moves — but it is a date that will be kept under review. In that context, from 24 May, we hope to reopen unlicensed and licensed premises indoors with mitigations; reopen the remainder of tourist accommodation; allow visits indoors in domestic settings; reopen indoor visitor attractions; and resume indoor group exercise and training in numbers that are limited to suit the venue.

Mr Speaker, we remain committed to the undertakings that we made this time last year. We will continue to keep this place apprised of our thinking, our rationale and our decisions. Thank you for facilitating us this evening after the Executive meeting.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): I thank the Ministers for making their statement. I now invite members to ask the Ministers questions. I will allow around one hour for the session. It is my intention to allow all members who wish to ask a question to do so. There will also be an opportunity for supplementary questions. However, that depends very much on whether members are focused and succinct in asking their questions. The Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office will be allowed a little more latitude than other members in asking his question, given his role.

Mr McGrath (Committee Chair - Committee for The Executive Office): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank the Ministers for their statement. We are in the position today where restrictions can begin to ease for two reasons: first, the incredible effort of the nurses, doctors and health service staff who have worked to exhaustion to keep us safe and roll out the vaccination programme; and, secondly, every person who has made sacrifices — some have made the ultimate sacrifice — over the past four months to keep themselves and their communities safe. They have created the conditions that have brought us from a difficult place to one where we can restore a bit of hope.

Scrutiny is not negativity. When the Executive's plan was originally published, there was no detail on the indicators and data that would be used to make the decisions on the dates on which restrictions would be eased. Despite promises of dates today, a lot of what has been announced is still indicative, which falls short of what many people want in their sectors. We are left in a position where we have no data and, in some places, no dates for people to move towards. Can the First Ministers commit to publishing the data and the indicators that will be used to make those important decisions?

Mrs O'Neill: I do not mind taking that question, a Cheann Comhairle. It is actually incorrect to say that a lot of this is not clear, because only one section of the announcements that we are making today is indicative, and that is the one at the further end, as you would expect. That is because we need to judge it based on the prevailing health circumstance at that time.

All the things that will change on 23 April — all the close contact areas, driving lessons, driving tests, outdoor sport, organised sport — have been confirmed, as has everything that will open on 30 April. The indicative section refers to 24 May, and that is because we are trying to give people the ability to plan. All being well, and with the public's support, that will be the confirmed date. It was the ask and the recommendation of the public health team, the CMO and the Chief Scientific Adviser that that be an indicative piece, because we will need to come back to it, given that it is so far in front of us. We promised people that we would try to give time to plan, so that is what we have done.

On the data that is being published, we have always said that we want to see all the data put out there. A considerable amount of data is put on the dashboard on the Department of Health's website, as you will know, and I am more than content for that to continue to be shared. You deserve to have the data; the House deserves to have the data.

It is unfortunate that, today, a lot of the information was leaked and was discussed in the media before the House had a chance to discuss it and whilst we worked our way through the detail of it. It took us all to work together, but I am very glad that we have arrived at a collective Executive position after all our deliberations.

Mr McGrath: I thank the Minister for that answer. The point is that, if there is a date that is indicative and is based on data, we need to know the data so that we can get that we are working towards that indicative date, and it becomes more real.

Ministers, there was a sense of chaos, as announced by yourself in the briefing, and the leak that happened this morning fed the impression that some of the announcements are a result of private lobbying, rather than strategy based on science. To be assured that the decisions have been made in the best interests of public health, will you commit to holding a public inquiry into the decision-making taken by the Executive during this crisis as soon as possible afterwards?

Mrs Foster: Thank you for that question. Those of us who sit on the Executive are always interested to see people outside the Executive tweeting and putting out the dates. Before I left home this morning, I was interested to know that the SDLP Member for West Tyrone had put up a full list of what the Executive were going to "rubber-stamp" today.

I am pleased to say that we took the time, as the deputy First Minister said, to work through all the decisions today and to talk to our Chief Medical Officer and our Chief Scientific Adviser to discuss the economic impacts, the societal impacts and, of course, the health impacts. That allowed us to come to the House with this package. Whilst we would, of course, always like to do more in these circumstances, I think that this is a very balanced package that will allow shops and gyms to reopen on 30 April, and, goodness, we have had many people lobbying about those issues.

As for a public inquiry, we have always said that there will be an inquiry after the COVID pandemic; of course there will be. There will be many lessons to learn. Whether that public inquiry takes place at a United Kingdom level or at a locally devolved level, we will have to wait and see, but I have no doubt that the scrutiny that the Chair often talks about will continue, as it should, because what we have been dealing with are life and death decisions. We have been dealing with stopping the livelihoods of so many people to try to protect their life over this past year, and it has been hugely difficult to make those decisions. However, there will be a public inquiry after the pandemic, and that will include the House as well as members of the Executive.

Mrs Cameron: I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for this very welcome statement to the House this evening.

I want to ask about the infection rate in the Republic of Ireland. Given the fact that, in comparison with Northern Ireland, our neighbours in the Republic are well behind in their vaccine roll-out, what concerns does the First Minister have about the information? Has there been any resolution to the issue over the passenger locator form for those arriving into Dublin and then travelling up to Northern Ireland?

Mrs Foster: Unfortunately, on the last issue, the passenger locator form issue still has not be dealt with satisfactorily. I really regret that, particularly because the Republic of Ireland added some countries to its red list recently. We do not have that data coming to Northern Ireland, and that is to be greatly regretted.

One of the issues that we were able to speak about with the Chief Scientific Adviser today was his modelling for the next six months and what he sees coming over the horizon. Of course, he is looking at worst-case scenarios, best-case scenarios and the middle way. He told us that the positive factors include the vaccination programme, the fact there will be increased immunity for the population and the seasonal effects that we often talk about. We all remember how the R number dropped back last summer and then came up quickly again in September/October. Some of the negative factors are that we cannot be positive about how much immunity people have and whether it will wane, particularly in the older population, and whether there will be more new variants. We have seen that, unfortunately, there will be more new variants. Of course, the other issue that he mentioned was the movement into Northern Ireland from areas with higher incidence levels. That concerns us, particularly in relation to the Republic of Ireland, and you are right to mention the fact that they have twice as many incidences according to our graphs that were shared today. We will, of course, continue to monitor what is going on in our modelling and with our nearest neighbour in the Republic of Ireland.

Mrs Cameron: Mr Speaker, thank you for the chance to ask a supplementary question. I thank the First Minister for that answer. I have to say that, a full year on, it is disappointing that the issue with passenger locator information has not been resolved. Given the threat that the new variants pose, it is unreasonable that that has not been brought to a head and dealt with.

Today, the Department of Health announced that close contacts of a positive case now need to be tested, whether or not they are symptomatic. I presume that that is a good way of helping to control what will be a continued outbreak of the virus. Does the First Minister think that our test, trace and protect system will be able to cope with the increased burden that will be placed on it from now on?

Mrs O'Neill: On your first question, the stronger and better our cooperation across this island, the better we will all be as a people. That needs to continue. I welcome the fact that the CMOs meet and converse every Friday morning. That is important because what happens in Cork will have implications for what happens in Tyrone and vice versa. It is really important that we have strong cooperation across the island.

I have always advocated a "Two islands" approach to COVID, and now, particularly where we are with the virus being suppressed, if we continue in that vein and, as the vaccine roll-out continues in the Twenty-six Counties, I hope that we will get to a point where we are aligned again. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, there have been times when we were the best with the response and times when we were the worst. That has happened across the island. We need to focus on working together and resolve things like the travel locator form, particularly given that travel will be a really sensitive issue.

Now, when we get to the point of being able to remove a lot of the harsh restrictions, the focus has to be on the other tools in the box to manage the virus. The test, trace and track system needs to be 100% perfect. It needs to actively find cases and deal with them head-on. As we come to the end of this wave — we are not there yet: we need to keep saying that, even though today is a good day — a lot of the shift in focus needs to be on what else we can now use to fight the virus and avoid, as best we can, going back into another cycle of lockdowns. We need to try to avoid that, and that is inevitably where we will end up again if we are not successful with an excellent test, trace and track system.

Dr Archibald: I thank the First Ministers for their statement. It is a significant announcement of relaxation measures and a welcome signal of the progress that we have made collectively as a society.

It will certainly be welcome news for businesses. The dates for businesses, including those in the hospitality sector, some of whom I met today, will give people the ability to plan for reopening and that step back towards some sort of normality.

Will the Executive provide ongoing support for those businesses that continue to be impacted by the restrictions?

Mrs O'Neill: Thank you for the question. There is no doubt that hospitality and tourism are, by any stretch of the imagination, the sectors that have been worst impacted by the pandemic. They have come at the tail end of every easement period because of the nature of the spread. I am glad that we have been able to reach the situation where we can give that sector an indicative date for the indoor situation and a full-on date for the outdoor situation. We know that outdoors is safer than indoors.

The member makes a good point. The one thing that we have been able to do well as an Executive is, for example, that the support that is paid to the hospitality sector is double what is paid elsewhere. It is welcome that we have been able to support those businesses to mitigate the damage, not, of course, that we have been able to replace their income. As an Executive, we have decided today — even though some people will be able to open partially, until we have the full reopening, people will not be able to realise the full potential of their businesses — to continue the grant-aid funding for all businesses in the hospitality sector until we get to the end.

We also agreed to continue support for gyms. Gyms are allowed to open for one-to-one training, but, without classes or group sessions, they cannot reach their full potential in income, so we are going to continue to fund them until we have full reopening there.

Dr Archibald: I thank the joint First Minister for that response. It will be welcome news to many businesses. The date of the next formal review is 13 May. Do you intend to give businesses as much clarity as possible, as early as possible, around dates for reopening?

Mrs Foster: Absolutely. One of the reasons why the date for reopening hospitality is indicative is that we will look at the data between 23 April and 30 April and between 13 May and 20 May. We will continually track that data to see whether there are any changes that concern us. That means that we will have to continue our close contact with some of the sectors so that we can help them to understand where things are at the present moment and whether we will be able to confirm that date. I very much hope that we will.

The Chairperson of the Committee for the Executive Office made the comment that it was because of the work of the NHS and all its members, including volunteers, and of the population that has made so many sacrifices. It is correct to say that. We hope that people will continue to work with us and that they will adhere to what we have put out today. By doing that, we will be able to open hospitality on 24 May.

Mr Butler: I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for coming here tonight.

In September of this year, I will have been married to Mrs Butler for 25 years. I am sure that it is a day that she will rue for the rest of her days. [Laughter.]

The wedding industry is worth around £250 million per year to the Northern Ireland economy, and the industry has been hit hard. That is not even to speak of the couples who have tried to plan their weddings over the past year. Will you outline, especially for the wedding industry operators who fell through the gaps for grants and other moneys, any other funding opportunities between now and when weddings actually happen? It takes at least six to eight weeks to plan for those wedding receptions.

Mrs Foster: We hope that when people look at what we have announced today, they will recognise that weddings and families and all the things that we have talked about are one of the reasons why we are trying to give that indicative date of 24 May for the opening of the rest of the hospitality sector.

As the member will know, on 12 April, we moved to a risk-assessed system for weddings and funerals in places of worship and, indeed, in other places that host civil partnerships. That will be on a risk-based assessment. We have not yet reached the point where we can have wedding receptions indoors. That is why we thought it was important to give that date. It is one of the very important reasons why we felt that there was a need to give an indicative date for the rest of the tourist accommodation. The member is right. They do need time to plan. People need to know whether they are going to be able to have their wedding reception. I hope that that gives some certainty to people who are planning their weddings.

Like Mr Butler, I was married 25 years ago, and I cannot imagine the horror that couples who are trying to plan their weddings are going through at the moment. We just took it for granted that everything was going to be there and in place. It has been an incredibly difficult time for couples who are planning their weddings. I have emails from people who have changed their wedding dates three or four times. That is really dreadful for them, and they will certainly not forget their wedding when they actually get there.

Mr Butler: Thank you for your answer, First Minister. A shorter question: do bridal boutiques come under close contact services?

Mrs O'Neill: Yes, they do. They are able to work from 23 April. I also congratulate you and your wife on your anniversary, and I hope you have a meal booked for her on 24 May.

Ms Bradshaw: Thank you, Ministers, for your statement today. I have not been so happy in months as I am to hear that the gyms are reopening soon. My question is about driving instruction, theory tests and driving tests. Where and when is the extra capacity going to come from and will there be any prioritisation for those people who actually cannot get back to work because they do not have a test?

Mrs O'Neill: The date for instruction, theory tests and driving tests is 23 April, but the decisions on how that will be done and how to deal with the backlog will all come under the Department for Infrastructure. It will have to provide the detail. I am happy to pass your question to the Minister and ask for a response.

Ms Bradshaw: Last time, the issue was that they opened quite quickly, the appointments all got sucked up, and people who probably really needed a test, including care workers and stuff, were not able to access them, so it was really about using the system properly.

My supplementary question is about gyms and sport. We talk a lot about the mental health pandemic that will happen at the far side of this COVID pandemic. What consideration has been given to the impact on the physical health of the population, through this one-year-plus of quite a sedentary lifestyle?

Mrs Foster: We have concentrated quite a bit on the mental health and well-being of the population, for very obvious reasons. Throughout the pandemic, we have encouraged people to get out and to walk and take some exercise if they can, recognising that, of course, some people live in built-up areas and maybe cannot do that. Certainly, I imagine that the Minister for Communities, as well as the Minister of Health, will want to look at physical well-being.

The Minister of Education is very keen for young people to get back to sport as quickly as possible. Sport is now allowed within schools. However, inter-school sport still cannot happen, simply because it would involve too much inter-school mixing, but we hope that that will be able to happen in the near future.

Ms P Bradley: I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for their statement today. I know that, for many, it will give a little bit of hope that we are moving towards a more normalised society.

Although I welcome the funeral relaxations that were announced on Monday, can you provide some clarity around gatherings at gravesides?

Mrs Foster: I thank the member for that question. From 12 April, as I said, we agreed to increase the number permitted to attend marriages, civil partnerships and funerals, informed by a risk assessment for the venue. That extends to the number at the graveside as well. It is subject to a risk assessment of each particular burial ground, because they will vary, and we acknowledge that. Whoever is in charge of operating the burial ground, whether it is the council or a church, should liaise with the funeral directors and communicate with them if there are any issues with that particular venue. It is important that that happens.

Ms P Bradley: I thank the First Minister for her answer. I attended my uncle's funeral on Monday past, and it was a very strange event to go to, with the limited numbers in the church and at the graveside. Very much in our tradition, we have receptions after funerals: it is the time that is needed to celebrate someone's life and to talk to people. When you looked at wedding receptions, did you consider funeral receptions as well?

Mrs O'Neill: I express my condolences to you and your family on the loss of your uncle.

Yes, we considered both things. Despite what was leaked this morning, which maybe got some people's hopes up that we were going to move to allow 30 people to attend weddings and the family gathering after a funeral, that is not what we have agreed. Having brought the date forward to 24 April, we thought that that would cover both occasions. It applies to all hospitality settings, so if people want to go back as a family to, for example, a community centre, a social club, a hotel or a restaurant, it will be provided for from 24 April. Hopefully, that will give some comfort at that time.

Mr O'Dowd: Paula's question was about the end of life. My question is about the start of life —maternity appointments — and a partner's ability to go with their pregnant partner to maternity appointments or even to the birth of their child. Is there any opportunity or indication from the announcement today that that will be the case, moving forward?

Mrs Foster: Your colleague the deputy First Minister raised that matter today at the Executive. The Health Minister was clear about visiting in hospitals: it is dependent on where the alert level is, nationally. At the moment, the UK alert level is level 4. The indication that he made to us today was that more hospital visiting will be allowed when the alert level drops to level 3. That is being looked at, we understand, this weekend. I am hopeful that we will see a change in that, because I think that we have all, like you, been contacted by people who want to visit people in hospital and, of course, to attend the birth of their children and be present at other very significant life events. It is very important for that to happen, so, hopefully, we will be able to give some news on that next week.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): I call John O'Dowd for a supplementary question.

Mr O'Dowd: No. Thank you, Chair.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): You pass? Thank you. I call Christopher Stalford.

Mr Stalford: Does a caravan constitute a self-contained tourism destination?

Mrs Foster: I love these questions. Yes. [Laughter.]

Mr Stalford: That was a surprisingly quick answer. I am grateful to the First Minister for providing it, because it will be welcome to many people around the country who have been paying thousands in fees for caravans that they have not been able to access.

During this time, our people have been very frustrated, and we are now at the point where they are sick to the back teeth of restrictions. That is definitely the case for young people who want access to their university education in a way that is not confined to online learning. When will we see some progress on that, particularly for a constituency such as mine where a university is a thriving part of the heart of the community?

Mrs Foster: As far as I understand it, at the moment, students on courses that require practical application, such as medicine, are attending the university, so they are continuing with face-to-face learning. Those courses that can, on a practical level, be taught online are continuing to be online. It is a matter for the universities as to when they will change that.

I agree with the Member for South Belfast, however, about the university experience that our young people are currently not experiencing. They are at home, they are online, they are not with their friends and they are missing that critical university experience that both he and I went through. Of course, they are getting very close to exam time, and it will be difficult to move them into class for lessons because they will be moving immediately into exams. However, I recognise the concern that the member has raised because it is very close to home for me.

Mr Gildernew: On this day of undoubted optimism, it is fantastic that people are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. However, my thoughts today are with those people for whom day-care and respite services were ended overnight almost a year ago. Many of them are elderly and vulnerable themselves, and they were left in very difficult situations and remain in those situations. I look forward to engaging with the Health Minister in relation to those people.

We have heard a lot of coverage about the vaccine programme and about the vaccines themselves. The roll-out of the vaccination programme has been a tremendous piece of work. Do the joint First Ministers agree that our health and social care staff have done excellent work in getting us to this point?

Mrs O'Neill: Thank you for your question. I absolutely concur with your first point. The families that need additional support have been starved of that support for over a year now. When it comes to day-care opportunities, families with a child or young adult with a disability in particular require that additional support. I very much look forward to hearing from the Department of Health, because it is in the remit of that Department. Given where we are in the pandemic, I hope that the Department of Health can instruct that that will now change so that families get back their full support.

The vaccination programme has been absolutely amazing. All credit goes to Patricia Donnelly and all the staff who have worked tirelessly to make it work. I am delighted that, in recent days, I got my first dose through my GP. It is just fantastic to get that call. You feel so liberated by it. I know that it is not everything — it is only the first dose — but you feel such a sense of hope. We felt that hope in our family when my mother got it.

We are able to make this announcement today because of the sacrifice of the public, the work of the healthcare staff and the work of the vaccination team with the roll-out of the vaccination programme. We are lucky to have those things.

Mr Gildernew: The joint First Minister has answered my supplementary question. I was going to ask whether she would take up the vaccine, but I think that she has indicated that fairly clearly.

Mr McNulty: This is a positive day. The sun is shining, there is summer heat in the air, and the First Ministers are sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Many young people, sports teams, learner drivers, business owners and families will breathe a huge sigh of relief, but, for others, there is less certainty, and there is not such cause for relief for them. Day care for adults with learning and physical disabilities was mentioned, as well as the reopening of respite centres, people waiting for surgery and appointments or waiting for a return to normal GP services, appointments for those on mental health waiting lists or those awaiting treatments, such as CBT, and a full return to face-to-face child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) and children's family therapy sessions. Do you have any information on when those will recommence? Will appropriate funding be allocated to our health service to address the huge waiting list challenges?

Mrs Foster: I understand that the Health Minister was in the House this week to talk about rebuilding services. I concur with him that we need to get all the services that he mentioned back into a rhythm. GP services and child and adolescent mental health teams have to be back in place. Those are absolutely matters for the Health Minister. As I said, he came and told us about rebuilding services in the trusts. This is really a matter for him, but we will certainly pass on the member's concerns about those issues.

Mr McNulty: Lockdown has a lot to answer for, First Ministers, with my wife and I expecting our first child on the twentieth of this month. Will I be able to attend the birth of my son?

Mrs Foster: You have given the gender away.

Mrs O'Neill: You have given the gender away and everything. I hope that that was discussed and that you will not get a clip when you get home. [Laughter.]

Mrs Foster: It is a gender-reveal party.

Mrs O'Neill: Congratulations to you. That is brilliant news. Fantastic. You are right to ask the question, because it is a question that probably every MLA has been asked throughout the pandemic. Partners have had to go in by themselves, without support. It is such a big time in your life, and you want that support. We raised that in the Executive today, because we want to get it up and running again to allow that support and to allow people to have their partner or someone with them at antenatal appointments and at the birth. Given where we are today and all the positive things that we have been able to achieve, I hope that that works for you and that everybody else gets the opportunity to be in that position as well.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): At least you cannot say that you were bored. [Laughter.]

Mr Stewart: I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for their statement and for their answers so far. There is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, and these relaxations will no doubt go down very well with all our constituents. However, and I am sure it is the same for all MLAs, my phone is pinging away with questions to which we do not yet have answers, so I am going to put a couple to you.

What is the current assessment and state of play about travel to elsewhere in the United Kingdom? Will people still have to isolate when they get back, and, if so, when will that be amended?

Mrs Foster: Thank you very much. The member will be glad to know that that is a question that I asked of our Health Minister today because a lot of people have been asking about moving around the common travel area. At the moment, guidance states that if you are staying for longer than 24 hours, you are supposed to isolate. That guidance should be looked at because there is a need for people to visit friends and family within the common travel area. There are also issues around, for example, examiners coming over to hold music exams and what have you. If they are doing them for two days, under the guidance — the guidance; it is not the law — they are meant to quarantine for 10 days. That is something that the Health Minister is looking at.

Mr Stewart: I thank the First Minister for that answer. No doubt, one of the sectors that will be overjoyed by this news will be the health and beauty sector, which has been champing at the bit to get back to start doing all the haircuts, nails and everything else. Many of them have been contacting me because they are keen to operate in a safe and legal manner. Are the guides and rules that were in place before Christmas still applicable, and will NI Direct be updated as quickly as possible to ensure that everyone has the information to hand?

Mrs O'Neill: I declare an interest as someone who is dying to get to a hairdresser. [Laughter.]

Yes, the guidance remains the same, so all the mitigations that they invested in, and did so brilliantly, remain. If guidance is to be updated for any sector, it will be updated on the website. As far as I am aware, however, the guidance for close contact businesses remains the same.

Mr Newton: Like others, on probably the best weather day of the year, I welcome the statement. I am in no doubt that it will give encouragement to our folk across many areas. The statement is on behalf of the five parties in the Executive. Members of those parties who, in the not too distant future, might be willing to criticise the statement, will recognise that they are criticising their own colleagues in the Executive. That appears to have been the practice following previous statements.

First Minister, what steps are planned at this stage to assist the hospitality industry, which is so important to our economy?

Mrs Foster: Thank you very much for that question. The member is absolutely right. We do apologise for this being a late meeting but we absolutely felt that it was right to work through what we were looking at as five parties to get consensus. What you see before you may not be what we all would have liked to have seen but five-party consensus was arrived at.

The Economy Minister has been keeping in close contact with the hospitality industry. A number of schemes have been developed to help the industry to mitigate its obvious losses. That is all that we can do at this time, particularly in relation to the large hospitality venues scheme, which helps some of those who are the infrastructure of our tourism economy.

So, we will keep talking. That scheme will continue until they open, as will the localised restrictions support scheme (LRSS), and we will want to speak to them about the emerging trends in health as we go through late April and into May. It is so important that they continue to hear from us as to where we think we are going, but I very much hope that we are able to open on 24 May.

Mr Newton: I thank the First Minister for those encouraging words. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will recognise the importance of tourism to Northern Ireland's economy overall, and much has been made of businesses requiring notice of reopening. I note the remarks that you made about transportation within the UK common travel area. Will you outline what the thinking might be in encouragement for the tourism industry in particular?

Mrs O'Neill: As I said earlier, the two sectors that have been hardest hit are hospitality and tourism. We know that there is a need to try to support all our industries that have been decimated as a result of the pandemic. We are working our way through all of that. Our priority now is to get them opened. We want to look towards future tourism potential. We need to work with the industry. We will have to sell what we have to offer. We will certainly be very supportive of the proposals that the Economy Minister will probably bring forward to rebuild the tourism sector.

We are looking at recovery as a whole, including societal recovery, economic recovery and well-being and personal recovery. We have all those things to focus on. That will all be factored in to our Programme for Government discussions and our plans. We do not underestimate the challenge in front of us to help some of those industries up off the floor, but we are determined to support them and to do the best that we can for them.

Mr Sheehan: I am sure that both Ministers will agree with me that this is a very good week, with the children being back to school and being able to enjoy their sport and physical exercise. When I was leaving my children to school this morning, I had a short conversation with the principal, who told me that he received guidance from the Education Minister last night that stated that breakfast and after-school clubs could open with immediate effect. That is good, but the principal said that that advice contradicts previous advice about keeping children in their bubbles. Will the joint Ministers tell us whether the Education Minister will provide clarification to school principals?

Mrs Foster: The letter that went out yesterday was designed to give clarity. There had been some questions around sport, music tuition, which, I think, was also included in the letter, and the wrap-around care piece. Some of the schools were very concerned that they were not able to provide that care for children at breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, so it was really important to get that clarification out. I hope that, whatever was said beforehand, people recognise that the latter one stands: it is the guidance now for wrap-around care in schools.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Supplementary, Mr Sheehan?

Mr Sheehan: No. Thank you.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): OK. I call Mr Chris Lyttle.

Mr Lyttle: I thank the people, particularly the children and young people, of Northern Ireland who have complied with profoundly challenging restrictions throughout the pandemic and for whom this will be positive news today.

I particularly welcome the return to sport. Will the return to squad training see any limit on numbers? Indoor group exercise is scheduled to return on 24 May. Has any consideration been given to earlier reopening of non-aerobic socially distanced group exercise, such as yoga, Pilates and children's gymnastics?

Mrs O'Neill: Thanks for the question. I think that the number for sport should not exceed 100. That includes everybody who is necessary; it is about including only the people who are necessary in order to have the game. Spectators are still not permitted at this stage.

The issue of allowing more indoor sport, including group exercise or even dance classes and things such as that, is something that a lot of us are probably lobbied about. It is the view of the health team — the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser — that those things are still too risky. That is why the date of 24 May has been allocated to that area. We constantly look at all those things and will continue to do so, but, at this stage, 24 May is where it sits.

Mr Lyttle: I thank the deputy First Minister for the response and the confirmation of the number not exceeding 100 for competitive games. The question was also about whether there will be any limit on the numbers for squad training. Hopefully, that will be in line with a suitable number required, given the limitations on the numbers at the moment.

Is it possible to be clearer about the number of guests whom people celebrating their wedding might be able to have at their reception after 24 May?

Mrs Foster: Again, that will depend on the size of the venue that they have their wedding reception at. Obviously, some venues are large, so you will be able to have larger weddings, but, if the venue is quite small, a risk assessment will have to be carried out to see how that can be achieved.

On the squad piece, I think it is fair to say that, as the deputy First Minister said, it should not exceed 100 but should be kept to a minimum of what is required for that sport. I think that it is fair to say that each of the codes will have advice and guidance out in relation to that for each of their clubs around Northern Ireland.

Mr Givan: I welcome today's statement. It is progress, and I commend my Rt Hon friend the First Minister and her DUP ministerial colleagues, without whom, I believe, we would not have made the same progress today. I am sure that we could have made further progress, left to ourselves.

In respect of some of the restrictions, the aspect around travel that is being raised with me is that currently you need an essential reason to go to Great Britain. Is that being removed so that non-essential travel into Great Britain will be allowed as well as the removal of the requirement to then quarantine?

Mrs Foster: This is the important issue that we have been talking about to do with the common travel area. There is a need to look at that guidance; he is absolutely right. At the moment, it is for work purposes that you can travel to Great Britain and not have to quarantine, so it is important that that is looked at. A lot of us have friends and family in Great Britain and will want to travel there to see them, and, at the moment, we cannot do that under the current guidance. I think that it is fair to say that we will look at this in the near future. As you know, we have moved from "Stay at home" to "Stay local", so, in Northern Ireland, that is what the guidance says. However, I hope that we can move to look at that whole common travel area piece in the next number of weeks.

Mr Givan: I thank the Rt Hon First Minister for that response.

At the Justice Committee today, one of the issues that were raised about the impact on courts — the hospitality sector has also the raised it — is that, ultimately, the two-metre social distancing rule is the only way in which we will see the right kind of transformation to tackle that problem and a return to not having that requirement in place.

The deputy First Minister indicated — she can correct me, if I am wrong — that, without a perfect track-and-trace system, it was inevitable that we would go back into another lockdown scenario. Given that, as of today, 0·025% of patients in our hospitals are COVID patients, 60% of all adults are vaccinated and we have seen the atrocious consequences of lockdown, particularly for children, young people, women and low-paid workers, how on earth could we ever allow a situation where we could go back to tolerating any form of restrictions such as we have had to endure over the past 12 months? When will we see the removal of social distancing and the mandatory wearing of face masks and, ultimately, the repeal of what, everybody has said, is draconian legislation impinging on our civil liberties?

Mrs O'Neill: The first thing that I will say to the member is that two people have died in the past 24 hours as a result of COVID, so we are still living through the pandemic. The best thing that we can do for the public is to try to save lives every day and try to get a balance to support our industries to open up again and support all of our people to get back to some semblance of normality. You cannot close your eyes and ignore the fact that we are still in a pandemic. We are in a pandemic, and people are still dying as a direct result of that.

The point that I was making around lockdown scenarios is that we need to try to avoid any other lockdown scenarios. I pointed towards test, trace and isolate because that is one of the tools that can help us to avoid that. We need to invest in other mechanisms that avoid us having to go into a lockdown scenario. There is not one person in the Chamber who wants to see us in lockdown scenarios, but, unfortunately, because of a global pandemic, they were necessary at different times throughout the pandemic. When can we get to the point where we do not have to stay apart or follow the public health advice? We can do that when it is safe.

Finally, let me say this to you: do not believe your own hype. Every Minister in that Executive has been working night and day to do their best for the public throughout the pandemic, and every Minister in that Executive today was collective and unified in their approach to maximising our ability to lift restrictions at the same time as being able to mind the public in the public health crisis that we face. I do not question the bona fides of any Minister around the table when it comes to trying to mind the public and steer us through what has been a horrendous time for everybody.

Ms Brogan: I thank the joint First Ministers for their statements this evening. As has been said, the announcement is welcome and we are all pleased that restrictions are being eased, but we are also all very aware of the huge impact that the pandemic has had on people across the community, particularly on the most vulnerable and those in poverty or housing need, lonely people and families and workers on low incomes. It has also been a difficult time for women, with an increase in unemployment and domestic violence. With that in mind, does the joint First Minister agree that the Executive's recovery strategy should focus on addressing social inequalities?

Mrs Foster: The member is right to point out that this is having a disproportionate impact on the lower-paid and women in particular. The Economy Minister was vocal today about trying to get a date for the tourism industry, because 50% of all those who are furloughed are either from the retail or the hospitality sector and most of them are young people and/or female and are low-paid. There is absolutely a need for us to get the economy opened up again so that people can have proper work to go to and can get the proper pay that they need to recover.

The recovery plan is part of what we are doing in the Executive. Obviously, the recovery plan has been brought. The Finance Minister has committed to funding the recovery plan from the Economy Minister, and it is critical that that happens now. We are dealing with stepping out of restrictions today, but we really have to focus now on our recovery and on rebuilding our society. Yes, of course, we need to build our economy, but we also need to rebuild our society, and I think that that is the point that the member makes.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Supplementary, Ms Brogan?

Ms Brogan: Níl, go raibh maith agat.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): I call Matthew O'Toole.

Mr O'Toole: I welcome today's announcements from the First Ministers, even if, given some of what we have seen today with leaks, the Executive's approach to easing restrictions has been a little more colander than calendar. However, I welcome where we are today.

Can I specifically ask about a sector that is not mentioned in today's statement: our arts sector? There is no mention of outdoor theatre. Our arts sector has been very patient and has not been as vocal as some other sectors. It would be helpful if we could get some detail about, first, outdoor theatre and then, more broadly, opening up theatre and the arts sector in general.

Mrs Foster: We discussed large gatherings, whether outdoor or indoor, today, and it is felt that we need to do some more work on that. The member will be aware of the discussion at present around COVID certification and having some sort of evidence that you have been vaccinated or, at least, tested, and that discussion continues at UK Government level. At the moment, pilots are taking place in England on large events, and he will be aware of those. We will be able to see the data that comes from that. We will probably explore running pilot events in Northern Ireland as well so that we can see how that impacts on transmission of the virus. That is the plan. Obviously, we would love to come here and tell you when festivals are back on again and when large gatherings can come together again, but we will continue to work on those issues. As I say, COVID certification and pilots are part of that.

Mr O'Toole: Thank you, First Minister, for that clarification. Several members have correctly said that hospitality and tourism are critical to our society and to our economy, and those sectors have been lobbying hard, as is their right. Would either First Minister agree with me that, as we move into the summer and try to attract tourists, the last thing that Northern Ireland needs is images of civil disobedience and street protests? Whatever your view of any political issue, we really do not need that.

Mrs O'Neill: Yes, that goes without saying. Of course that is the case. We need to ensure that we do not see a return to the scenes that we witnessed in the last number of weeks on our streets. I hope that that is not the case, and I hope that everybody in the House uses their collective political will to make sure that it is not the case.

Mr Chambers: I acknowledge that huge responsibilities have rested on the shoulders of the Executive over the past year. Will the First Minister confirm that the TEO COVID task force, supported by the cross-departmental working group, holds lead responsibility for managing all possible changes to the regulations and for proposing possible dates for reopening? That being the case, does she agree that all Ministers, even those who were reported as speaking out in apparent surprise this morning, will have had formal departmental representation on the working group and therefore had equal opportunity to provide input and help shape the process?

Mrs O'Neill: Yes, I can confirm that the cross-departmental working group meets every week. All Departments are represented on that through their officials. They all had input to the paper that we have today and collectively brought it forward. It was then up for discussion at the Executive, but unfortunately it was in the public domain before it got that far.

Mr Chambers: Do the First Minister and deputy First Minister agree that the Executive, by following the medical and scientific advice when shaping aspects of the lockdown, have undoubtedly saved many lives in Northern Ireland from this dreadful virus?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his comments on the responsibilities that lay on our shoulders. As I said, we had dreadful decisions to take about livelihoods and lives. That is essentially what we have been trying to do over the past year, and we have very much been taking the advice of our medical advisers. I pay tribute to our medical team for the way in which they work with us. It is a tough job. Sometimes, we would like to go faster, and they express the reasons why they think that we should not. We also have to take into account the point about livelihoods and the economy. When we come out of this dreadful time, we want to have an economy to go back to, we want to have a society that has good well-being — we have talked about mental health and physical health today — and there are so many issues that we have to balance.

As we said, we will look back at this time and delve into all the decisions that have been taken, which will be the right thing to do. This has been a tough year for all of us as public representatives, but it is important that we keep at the forefront of our minds the reasons why we do this: to protect our community and save lives but also to try to make sure that there is an economy to go back to.

Mr Carroll: I thank the Ministers for the statement. Given that the virus is still circulating in some areas and there are 100 cases —.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): The member is on mute.

Mr Carroll: Can you hear me, Mr Speaker?

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): We will move on to the next question and see if the member can get that technical problem resolved.

Ms Sugden: Thank you, First Minister and deputy First Minister.

I declare an interest. Earlier in the week, the Economy Minister suggested that there may be an announcement in relation to the reopening of FE colleges for all students. At the moment, some are open for courses that have a practical element. The First Minister talked about universities, but there is a difference with FE colleges, not least because there are sixth-form students who access them as part of their school curriculum. Is there any indication of when we might get a date for the full return of FE colleges?

Mrs Foster: That is an important question, and it is one that we have been trying to deal with today. Those who have practical applications will, because close contact is opening on 23 April, be able to have those training sessions again from that date. There was some confusion that that might happen this week, but, because the regulations need to change to allow close contact, that training will start again on the 23 April for those training to be beauticians, hairdressers or whatever. I will certainly get the Economy Minister to write to the member about the wider, full return of FE colleges, because it is important that we have clarity on that as well.

Ms Sugden: I appreciate that, First Minister.

I will go to another issue. Are touring caravans included in the reopening of caravan parks?

Mrs O'Neill: No. At this stage, it is just the static caravans. We will come back to the issue of touring caravans.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): I invite Gerry Carroll to try again to make his contribution.

Mr Carroll: Can you hear me, Mr Speaker?

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Yes, certainly. Go ahead, please.

Mr Carroll: Thanks for the statement, Ministers. Given that the virus is still circulating and that, in some areas, we have 100 cases per 100,000 people and given the warnings from some medical practitioners about previous reckless decisions, how confident are the Ministers that this strategy will not lead to a further spike in cases?

Mrs O'Neill: Of course, as we have learned day after day for over a year now, there is no certainty in a pandemic, so as for what comes next with new variants and the spread, a lot of factors will mean that we do not know what the scenario could be in a number of months' time. However, I can say that we are confident that we have arrived at a balanced way forward and that we are living up to our promise that we would not keep restrictions in place for any longer than necessary. We are taking some preventative measures, and we have discussed today how adherence is a big thing for us if we are to be successful in what we have outlined today. We have asked the Communities Minister to come up with proposals around, for example, whether we could support local government to do more in terms of COVID marshals and whether we can support councils to work with local businesses across any sector from retail through to food and hospitality. We have asked her to see whether we can do more to support councils and support adherence to what we have outlined today.

Mr Carroll: Thank you for that answer. I want to ask about the criteria for vaccination, because, as of next week, many thousands of workers, especially in retail, will return to work, many of whom have not had a vaccine. Will the Ministers commit to looking at that, or are there plans to adapt the vaccination programme to include people in retail, people in hospitality and especially people in schools? Special educational needs staff are still not vaccinated at the rate that they need to be.

Mrs Foster: As the member will know, the vaccination priority is set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and it has set out the priority categories. I am happy to take your point back to the Health Minister, but I know that, in the past, when we have talked about different cohorts of workers, whether from the chilled meat industry, for example, or other industries, we have stuck to the JCVI vaccination route. I am happy to take his comments back to the Health Minister because I fully understand the point that he makes.

The Chairperson (Mr Maskey): Members, that concludes questions on the statement. I thank the Ministers for making sure that they came here this afternoon on behalf of the Executive to deliver their statement, giving due respect to the Assembly. Thank you all for your contributions.

Agenda item 3 is the time and date of our next meeting. Obviously, we do not have a date for our next meeting, and, as soon as I receive notification from the Executive about when a Minister next wishes to make a statement to the Committee, written notification of the time, date and place will be issued to members in the usual way.

That concludes this meeting of the Committee. Thank you.

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