The First Minister Arlene Foster has hit out at the “selfish spirit” of some employers who have forced staff to come into their workplace instead of working from home and at businesses which have stayed open despite the current coronavirus regulations.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in Dungannon this afternoon, Mrs Foster said: “It is unfortunate that I have become aware that some employers and business owners are requiring their staff to attend the workplace when people could work from home or indeed businesses which should not be open at all.
“That’s quite a selfish spirit I have to say, and it’s not going to help us to beat the virus and keep people safe.
“And for those who say someone else is doing it, as my mother used to say, if they put their hand in the fire, there is no need for you to follow it.”
Mrs Foster confirmed that she and Ms O’Neill will speak later with the Chief Constable Simon Byrne for an update on compliance and enforcement with the current health regulations.
Ms O’Neill added that an urgent roundtable forum will be held with retailers, supermarkets, supply chains, councils and health and safety chiefs about enforcement within the retail sector.
“It’s our collective social responsibility to do the right thing,” she said.
“We have been concerned about anecdotal evidence of staff coming to us with concerns around employers asking them to come into work. We’re also concerned about some retailers not operating in line with the spirit of the restrictions. That’s not only unfair to the small retailers who are complying with the requirement to remain closed but it also goes against all the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus right across the community.”
The DUP leader also praised the reduction of the R-number in Northern Ireland from 1.8 to around 1.1 as she urged people to “take personal responsibility and do the right thing”.
Mrs Foster said the public should make “simple and everyday choices” such as phoning family and friends rather than visiting, doing one big food shop rather than nipping out each day for a few items and not going into the workplace when they don’t have to.
“I do appreciate the costs these restrictions are having, I appreciate the weariness, we’re all sick and tired of restrictions but we absolutely must do it to get through it,” she added.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine is rolling out at a very good rate, we can see a route back to normality but it will take us months to get there.”
Executive ministers met earlier on Tuesday for an update from Health Minister Robin Swann on the increasing pressures facing the healthcare system.
Northern Ireland’s health trusts have warned that hospitals could see double the number of Covid-19 patients by the third week in January.
With 1,205 new positive cases of the virus, 751 people with Covid in hospitals and 55 in intensive care, Ms O'Neill stressed the "immense pressure" that the health service is under.
"This number is only going to rise, we're in for a very tough number of weeks ahead, the pressure will mount on the health system and we all need to adhere to the public health advice," she said.