New Covid-19 powers introduced in North as death toll rises to 21

Among those suffering from virus is Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy who is critical but stable in hospital

The North’s agriculture minister Edwin Boots said in cases of ‘gross’ breach of the regulations, fines could be increased to £100,000.  File image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

The North’s agriculture minister Edwin Boots said in cases of ‘gross’ breach of the regulations, fines could be increased to £100,000. File image: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

The number of deaths in Northern Ireland from coronavirus has increased to 21 after the North’s Public Health Agency (PHA) on Sunday reported there had been six more fatalities.

The PHA also reported 86 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, bringing the total of cases in Northern Ireland to 410.

The latest figures were published as sweeping new powers were introduced in the North at 11pm on Saturday night by the Northern Executive to try to combat the spread of the disease.

These include the power to compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse such as shopping for food, going to work, exercising or donating blood.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 include fines of up to £5,000 for businesses not observing the new rules around closures and implementation of social-distancing practices.

The North’s agriculture minister Edwin Boots told BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that in cases of “gross” breach of the regulations, fines could be increased to £100,000.

Business closures

Amid some continuing differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin over what firms should and should not remain open, the DUP Minister for Economy Diane Dodds is due to establish a forum to advise the Northern Executive on the matter.

It emerged over the weekend that one of those suffering from Covid-19 is the well-known solicitor Niall Murphy, who is a partner in the Belfast-based firm KRW Law.

Mr Murphy is in an induced coma in hospital and remains in a critical but stable condition.

Mr Murphy, a 43-year-old married father of three children has been involved in many high-profile Troubles cases. He is also the spearhead behind Ireland’s Future, the group campaigning for a Border poll on a united Ireland.

PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne said on Sunday that police would apply a four-phased approach of engagement, explanation, encouragement and enforcement, and only use enforcement when “absolutely necessary” in applying the new rules.

He said people would “notice a change of police style and approach at tourist locations and local open areas to encourage people to adhere to the regulations”.

Public health

“Our aim is to encourage and support the public to fully comply with these necessary restrictions. We have no desire to use the formal emergency policing powers now available but it is right that we can if necessary enforce against those who disregard the measures and put their own health and the health of other people at risk,” he said.

“Each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to follow the NI Executive regulations and do everything we can to stop the spread of Covid-19,” he added.

Mr Byrne explained that for the public the first fine for those breaking the rules would be £60 but this would be reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. For a subsequent breach of the regulations, the fine would double to £120 and double on each further repeat offence up to a maximum of £960.

Sinn Féin mayor of Belfast Daniel Baker has thanked the mayor of Shenyang, Jiang Youwei, and the Chinese Consulate in Belfast for a donation of 10,000 disposable medical masks and 500 sets of protective clothing.

“I will be making arrangements for this equipment to be distributed urgently to our frontline healthcare workers upon arriving in Belfast,” said Mr Baker.

He thanked the donors for “extending solidarity from the people of Shenyang to the people of Belfast and Ireland as we fight back against Covid-19”.