A third patient with Covid-19 has died in hospital in Northern Ireland, Stormont's health minister said last night.
The victim, aged in their late 60s, died in the Greater Belfast area and had underlying health conditions.
Robin Swann said: “This is the third tragic announcement of this kind I have had to make in recent days. The lethal threat from this virus is very real and we all have to do everything we can to combat it.”
Meanwhile, draconian restrictions on movement will be introduced in Northern Ireland within days, the minister said.
He added the measures were required because “selfish” people continued to ignore social distancing guidance.
First Minister Arlene Foster said the power-sharing Executive would not hesitate to introduce a “lockdown”, working in conjunction with police, if that is what health experts advised.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was no longer a matter of “if” restrictions are required; it was just a question of “when” they would be imposed. She also acknowledged measures would be “draconian” and accused those disregarding the advice of effectively “killing people”.
I don’t believe that anyone wants to be standing lonely around a graveside because they went to an event that was completely unnecessary todayNaomi Long
The Justice Minister warned that businesses and event organisers who defy Stormont coronavirus bans and closure orders will face fines up to £100,000. Naomi Long said the financial penalties are among new powers set to be made available to the Stormont Executive.
“And I don’t believe that anyone wants to be standing lonely around a graveside because they went to an event that was completely unnecessary today.”
Mr Swann has already warned that 15,000 people could die in the region if steps are not taken to limit the spread of Covid 19.
He confirmed the imminent introduction of restrictions as another 20 cases were announced in the region. There are now 148 confirmed diagnoses here, with three deaths.
Emergency powers passing through Westminster yesterday are expected to be formally introduced in Northern Ireland today.
The minister said while some further preparations would be required before the powers were used, he did expect to see them rolled out this week.
“Those draconian measures will save lives - it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“This isn’t something we can wait weeks on, this isn’t something that we will wait many days on. These are measures that if we use now, use constructively, we can really have an impact here on Northern Ireland and save lives.”
Ulster Unionist Mr Swann said the death toll in Northern Ireland could “rapidly dwarf” the numbers who lost their lives during the Troubles.
Later, the First Minister did not give a time-frame for implementing restrictions, but warned: “We will take the legislative powers and we will use it when it’s appropriate and proportionate to use those legislative powers. If the public health advice is that we need to use powers to enforce a lockdown then we will do that in conjunction with the PSNI.”
Mrs Foster said the public should not wait to be forced to act and should instead take responsibility for adhering to the guidance immediately.
“This really is a matter of life or death,” she said.