Northern Ireland farmers have been urged to make contingency plans for their farms in case they are infected with Covid-19 and rendered unable to work.
Issuing the advice, DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) stressed that protecting the food supply chain was "absolutely vital".
It comes as the Minister earlier announced that departmental inspections and TB testing would continue in the region.
In a joint statement, the Minister and UFU asked that farmers take "every precaution possible" to make sure they can continue to feed Northern Ireland.
Minister Poots said: “Family farms have many benefits with regards to social distancing but it also brings unique challenges.
"As farmers live where they work and work where they live, it is important to make plans as to how to deal with potential infection of Covid-19.
This will encompass all members of the family - including grandparents, parents and children, as well as casual and full-time farmworkers.
“By their nature, farmers are very resilient people and are quick to adapt to changing circumstances in continuing to provide food for us all.
"However, it is very important that you assess the resilience of the farm business to cope if you or other key workers become ill, and develop plans for those circumstances.
“As part of planning for COVID-19 I would advise some simple steps that will help alleviate any pressure should you, a family member or key workers on the farm take ill.”
UFU president Ivor Ferguson added: “The agri industry needs to act now. We need to take every precaution we can to protect one another and help our healthcare professionals safeguard the people of Northern Ireland.
By being extra careful as we carry out day-to-day farming tasks, we’re ensuring that the food supply chain operates without any glitches.
"Our farmers will play their part in tackling the biggest health challenge of our generation by continuing to produce quality food for the nation.
"Their commitment to food production will help ensure shop shelves remain stocked and consumers can purchase goods without difficulty.”
What you can do now
The department listed precautionary steps farmers can take now to reduce any potential impact the virus could have on their businesses.
- Identify who you can ask to help and know what skills or knowledge they need to work on your farm.
- Write down the daily work plan to include what is happening on the farm, which stock are where, what feed they are receiving, animal health treatments, grazing rotation, etc.
- Provide operating instructions for all machinery and equipment, for example, the milking parlour routine, the automatic systems in the hen broiler, pig house and don’t forget the things often taken for granted like checking the meal hasn’t bridged in the bin.
- Assess feed, fertiliser, oil, medicines, disinfectants and other critical inputs. Where stocks are low, replenish but don’t stockpile.
- Provide everyone with a list of emergency contacts, i.e. the private veterinary practitioner, technical advisers, local contractors.
- Ensure everyone is multi-skilled where possible, i.e. everyone could milk the cows if necessary.
What are the symptoms of the virus?
A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).
The department also asked farmers to follow the below guidelines to protect themselves and others from becoming ill.
- Stay at home;
- Wash your hands with soap and water more often – do this for at least 20 seconds;
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available;
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze;
- Put used tissues in the bin (not the recycling bin) immediately and wash your hands afterwards;
- Keep 2m or 6ft away from anyone coming on to the farm;
- Ask for deliveries or collections to be left at a safe distance – the door, the yard or the date;
- Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus;
- Use phone, online services or apps to contact your GP surgery or other health and social care services.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean;
- Do not have visitors to your home, including friends and family;
- Don’t shake hands;
- If you have symptoms, do not attend your GP, pharmacy or hospital. If you need urgent medical attention, ring your GP or hospital, or if it is an emergency ring 999.