Foster warns of ‘consequences’ for those who break new Covid restrictions

Northern Irish officials report 763 new cases of virus and four more deaths

A man wearing a face mask walks past an entrance to Belfast City Hospital on Wednesday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A man wearing a face mask walks past an entrance to Belfast City Hospital on Wednesday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said that those who broke the new intensive period of coronavirus restrictions “can expect to feel the full consequences”.

“These are tough times as our enforcement approach is getting tougher too,” she said.

Much of the North’s hospitality sector shutting down for four weeks from 6pm on Friday and schools closing for two weeks from Monday.

At an evening Stormont press conference after a meeting of the Northern Executive, Ms Foster said she was not surprised that the Government in the Republic also had ramped up restrictions in the Border counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.

Asked was there liaison between the Garda and PSNI in ensuring there was no unnecessary cross-Border travel, Ms Foster said there was “ongoing” contact between the two forces.

Co-operation

“At an operational level I do understand the Police Service and the gardaí are working very closely together, particularly of course along the Border,” she said.

The North’s Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy, at the same press conference, said that the virus didn’t “respect any political borders or constitutional borders and so the idea of close co-operation right across the island is essential”.

“That’s something that is understood by all of us who are attempting to assist in fighting the pandemic,” he said.

Mr Murphy also announced some supports for businesses which will be closed due to the new regulations. Small businesses would receive £1,600 (€1,765) per fortnight over the period of the new restrictions while large businesses would receive £3,200 (€3,530), he said.

Ms Foster at the press conference recounted the “lovely story” of how the Bull and Claw restaurant in Newtownards, Co Down, halved the price of its menu on Wednesday to try to deal with its stock before being closed. “But the customers all paid the full price. And I think that speaks very much to the strength of our people, our goodness, our giant spirit. And I want to see more of that giant spirit moving forward over the next couple of weeks.”

There were 763 new cases of the virus and four more deaths recorded by the North’s Department of Health.

The department has recorded a total of 606 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic and 23,878 confirmed cases of the disease. There were 6,394 positive cases in the past week, just over 900 per day.

ICU patients

There are 201 coronavirus patients being treated in Northern Irish hospitals with 24 of them in intensive care units and 17 being ventilated.

The highest incidence continues to be in the Derry and Strabane council area. Currently it is experiencing 870 cases per 100,000 of population. This compares with the next highest, Belfast, with 475 cases per 100,000 and Mid Ulster with 471 cases per 100,000.

The department also recorded 203 cases of the virus in Belfast on Wednesday and 104 cases in Derry and Strabane. The lowest daily incidence on Wednesday were in Ards and North down with 22 cases and Mid and East Antrim with 24 cases.

Meanwhile, North Antrim DUP MLA and Policing Board member Mervyn Storey called on PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne to ensure his officers take a “more robust approach to enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations”.

Mr Storey said that in many parts of Northern Ireland there was widespread concern that the PSNI approach to enforcing the rules has been “inconsistent and toothless”.

He said that the “perception, rightly or wrongly” was “that breaches by republicans and the GAA are deemed untouchable”.