Health Minister Robin Swann has a launched a new campaign to help promote distance awareness.

The campaign uses a consistent and instantly recognisable symbol, the Distance Aware Shield to help remind people to maintain a social distance. Organisations and individuals can support the campaign by wearing a badge or displaying a poster with the Distance Aware Shield.

Launching the initiative Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The introduction of the Distance Aware Shield in Northern Ireland comes at a critical time for us. The progress we have achieved to date in our vaccination programme is very welcome but we cannot allow complacency to creep in.

“It remains as important as ever to follow the public health advice – this includes washing our hands, wearing a face covering and keeping our distance. The badges and posters will be a helpful prompt to maintain distance.”

The campaign will be promoted through community pharmacies, general practices (GPs), Health and Social Care Trusts, and in the voluntary and community sector through the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA). Northern Ireland sporting bodies and retailer Asda are also backing the campaign. Distance Aware badges will be available from information points in all Asda stores.

Minister Swann added: “The badge can be worn by anyone to signify that they wish to maintain social distancing and it is not meant to be an identifier of someone who has been shielding or may have any specific health condition. This is an opportunity for members of the public to become more involved in promoting the social distancing message and to help our efforts to halt the spread of Covid. There is a very simple message behind the scheme – show your concern and respect for other people by maintaining social distancing.”

Commenting on the new initiative Chief Executive of the Patient and Client Council Vivian McConvey said: “Our natural inclination is to embrace people when we see them, it’s part of our nature here, and at a time when we all really need some contact, we must go the extra mile to remain safe and be mindful of keeping others we care about safe too. The Distance Aware campaign launched today by the Minister will help with the collective efforts on this front.  Having been involved in the initial research, we welcome this initiative which provides a polite visual reminder to those we meet to ask them to respect our space.”

Olive MacLeod Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency said: “The PHA has partnered with over 500 community pharmacies across Northern Ireland to support this initiative. Pharmacies sit at the heart of local communities and they will be a great help in promoting the campaign and in distributing Distance Aware badges to members of the public, especially to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. As lockdown measures start to gradually ease in the coming months, it is hoped that wearing the badge and signalling the need for distance will help reduce levels of anxiety experienced by members of the public around contracting the virus. Covid-19 will continue to be with us for quite some time. To help protect ourselves and others, we all need to keep following the public health advice.”

The Distance Aware campaign was launched in Wales last year and was adapted for use in Northern Ireland by the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and the Patient and Client Council.

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