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Coronavirus: Fears grow of a lockdown revolt in Northern Ireland

Increased traffic on roads and busy parks raise concerns more are ignoring the rules

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Belfast city centre in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic

Belfast city centre in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Belfast city centre in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic

Lockdown discipline in Northern Ireland may be starting to slip, it has been warned.

It follows reports of more cars on the road and parks busy with people.

Over a month has now passed since restrictions were imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But debate is growing as to how and when the region will emerge from lockdown.

First Minister Arlene Foster suggested restrictions could be relaxed at a faster pace than other parts of the UK.

She said lockdown measures will be eased when certain scientific and public health criteria are met and not against set timelines.

This week, however, signs have been emerging that some sections of society are slowly starting to break from lockdown ­- despite continued warnings against complacency.

Country parks under the control of Stormont have reopened to those within walking distance.

But one council on Thursday posted photographs of cars parked outside, urging people to remember that it was open for pedestrian use only.

Officials later warned that parks could be closed again if the public do not follow the rules.

There are also signs of more cars on the road.

The Department for Infrastructure said it is continuing to closely monitor the volume of traffic.

It said that since lockdown on March 23, on average there has been a reduction in traffic flows by about 62% from Monday to Friday and by about 70% at weekends compared to this period in previous years.

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A major maintenance scheme on the M2 Bellevue Bridge will begin next Monday and is expected to last 20 weeks.

A major maintenance scheme on the M2 Bellevue Bridge will begin next Monday and is expected to last 20 weeks.

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A major maintenance scheme on the M2 Bellevue Bridge will begin next Monday and is expected to last 20 weeks.

A leading commentator on the Northern Ireland roads network, Wesley Johnston, said he fears traffic volumes have started to rise.

"Personally I feel that there has been more traffic on the roads in the past week than before," he said.

"It could be that people can't bear it any longer, or that people are coming to the view that they can't continue to live like this.

"I'm working from home but I've had to go to the office twice now to collect things that I need from there."

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M2 in Belfast yesterday

M2 in Belfast yesterday

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

M2 in Belfast yesterday

On Thursday it was announced that livestock marts, which had closed voluntarily on March 23, are set to reopen on a phased basis from Monday.

A DAERA spokesman said: "Staff within the department have maintained regular contact with livestock mart operators over recent weeks and have been reassured that robust operational protocols will enable them to conduct business in a manner that is safe for staff, farmers and buyers, and adheres to social distancing requirements."

The Executive is due to discuss reopening cemeteries on Friday after Health Minister Robin Swann said he doesn't "see any reason why" they should remain closed.

Speaking at the Executive's daily conference on Thursday, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said there is constant discussion over the reopening of cemeteries, allowing solitary prayer in chapels and opening garden centres and amenity sites - all of which would see more people leaving their homes and putting pressure on social distancing measures.

"We are responsible for setting our own regulations and we have our own set of circumstances," he said.

"We are an island which has had a roughly similar experience across the entirety of the island."

Mr Murphy said the public's behaviour so far had been "exemplary" and reiterated his concern for the bereaved.

"We are hugely sympathetic to people who want to visit loved ones."

Mr Swann warned that Northern Ireland is "not out of the woods yet" with regard to coronavirus.

"Modelling has indicated that we are now in the peak of the first wave of the pandemic but it's too early to confirm whether the current figures represent the peak," he said.

"And in the absence of a vaccine we will have to plan for a potential second wave of Covid-19 cases later in the year.

"The outbreak has not yet reached the point where some of the restrictions can be relaxed."

He added that progress achieved by adherence to social distancing could be "lost very quickly" in how restrictions are lifted.

Mrs Foster, meanwhile, hinted that Northern Ireland may move away from the restrictions at a different pace from worse hit parts of the UK. "It will be led by the criteria that will be set down and agreed by ourselves in the Northern Ireland Executive in conjunction with the our colleagues in the other parts of the UK," she told Cool FM.

"And because of that you could well see different parts of the United Kingdom move in different time to other parts, because it will be criteria-led.

"What do I mean by that - we will have to look at the amount of admissions to hospital, the admissions to intensive care units, the number of deaths we have, what it means for us in terms of the science.

"We have a scientific advisory group in London that advises and then we also have our own advisory group here in Northern Ireland and our own Chief Medical Officer.

"So, they will be looking at all of that information, all of the data we collect in Northern Ireland, we will bring that together and then we'll look at it that way."

The PSNI has said it has been receiving an average of more than 600 reports a day from people identifying others for allegedly breaking lockdown rules.

Within the first six days of its launch on April 10, the PSNI's dedicated Covid-19 web page had received 3,787 complaints alleging a breach of regulations.


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