Coronavirus: Six more deaths in North as sweeping powers come into force

Further 86 cases of Covid-19 reported following announcement of restrictions

Paramedics are seen attending an incident in Belfast as the spread of the coronavirus disease  continues, on Saturday. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Paramedics are seen attending an incident in Belfast as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues, on Saturday. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

 

Six more people have died from coronavirus in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, the Public Health Agency said on Sunday.

It reported a further 86 cases of the virus, also known as Covid-19, bringing the total in the region to 410. Twenty-one people have died from the virus in the North in total.

In an effort to curb the spread of the virus the Stormont Executive on Saturday night approved sweeping powers to restrict the movement of people.

In a statement, the Executive said it had agreed to adopt the powers in “response to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by Covid-19”.

The regulations, which came into effect at 11pm on Saturday night, compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home “without a reasonable excuse”, such as shopping for food, going to work or donating blood.

Recreational facilities including pubs, restaurants, cafes and cinemas will close with limited exceptions.

The rules flow from emergency laws passed at Westminster earlier in the week. Gatherings of more than two people outside of the same household will be banned, except where the gathering is “essential for work purposes”, or to attend a funeral.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 include fines of up to £5,000 for those in breach.

Commenting on the introduction of the powers, First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These are extraordinary powers for any government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times.

“We are asking the people of Northern Ireland to make fundamental changes to how they live their lives. But we are doing this to keep you safe, to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 infection so that the health service has the capacity to deal with those who need their help the most.

“We know the enormity of what we are asking of the public, but it is proportionate to the threat we all face from this deadly virus. No one is immune.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Protecting the public, supporting the health service and saving lives are the priorities for the Executive during this crisis.

“Each one of us has a personal responsibility to do everything we can to fight back against Covid-19 for the good of everyone across society. That’s why we are asking everyone to comply with the new measures being introduced today.

“As an executive, we don’t want to get to the stage where people are being fined for being out when they should be at home. But if anyone – even after everything they have heard or seen over the last few weeks – still believes that this does not apply to them, then we will use every power we have to ensure people stay at home so that we save as many lives as we possibly can.”

Northern Ireland restrictions

The Executive said “reasonable” excuses for people to leave their home include the need:

- to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies

- to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household

- to seek medical assistance

- to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance

- to donate blood

- to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living

- to attend a funeral of a family member.

Anyone who can work from home must do so and employers must facilitate this where feasible, the Executive agreed.

‘Coronavirus doesn’t wait’

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that sweeping new powers placing communities in lockdown were necessary to hold back the spread of coronavirus.

The Foyle MP said that huge decisions such as this needed to be managed in a better way than tweets on a Saturday night and called for political leaders to step up to the mark.

Mr Eastwood said: “The people of Northern Ireland deserve more than a tweet announcing a lockdown and enforcement powers. These are huge measures and people deserve leadership.

“Our communities have been leading the way, staying home and doing all they can to protect their loved ones. It’s time everyone stepped up.

“Make no mistake, in the next few weeks, people will die. We all have a responsibility to limit the spread to protect as many people as possible.

“This is no time for political games – nor for hiding – the First Minister and Deputy First Minister can’t just hold press conferences Monday to Friday during office hours – coronavirus doesn’t wait, it doesn’t take weekends off nor do the thousands of doctors and nurses fighting on the frontline.

“It’s time to get real. Let’s all show leadership – and let’s stay at home and save lives. Those with power and influence need to use it – failure to do so will be unforgivable.”

On Friday, the North’s Minister for Finance Conor Murphy said the Stormont Executive had joined forces with the HSE to purchase in-demand equipment for healthcare workers from China.

He said it was a “significant order” that would satisfy supply needs in Northern Ireland.Aer Lingus planes are already scheduled to fly to China to bring back a huge consignment. The first flight arrived in China on Saturday evening.– Additional reporting: PA