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Health minister warns of tougher sanctions on pubs that flout laws

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Licensed premises that continue to flout Covid-19 restrictions have been warned that tougher sanctions should be introduced to deal with the problem. (stock photo)

Licensed premises that continue to flout Covid-19 restrictions have been warned that tougher sanctions should be introduced to deal with the problem. (stock photo)

Licensed premises that continue to flout Covid-19 restrictions have been warned that tougher sanctions should be introduced to deal with the problem. (stock photo)

Licensed premises that continue to flout Covid-19 restrictions have been warned that tougher sanctions should be introduced to deal with the problem.

The Health Minister said he will now be asking the NI Executive to prioritise "stronger legislation" after footage emerged which appeared to show guests at a local wedding dancing at close quarters.

Speaking at yesterday's daily Covid-19 conference Robin Swann said he would "get down on both knees and beg people in a heartbeat if that's what it takes" to get them to adhere to the guidance from the Executive.

Revealing that there had been one further death from Covid-19, and 69 new confirmed cases of the virus, he said there were growing concerns over the R-number rate of transmission which has been consistently over 1.0 for several weeks now.

"This is a nightmare that stretches on and on," he said.

"The R number is likely to be 1.3. This continues to be the biggest public health crisis in a generation.

"Any complacency presents a challenge to us all."

Earlier this week it was announced that wet pubs, theatres and private members' clubs could not reopen as planned due to the rise in cases.

The Minister said there has been a "blatant disregard" for Covid-19 regulations by some in the hospitality sector and that legislation is now likely to be strengthened to punish premises which continue to ignore restrictions and guidance.

"If you flout the rules you must face the consequences," Mr Swann said.

"I am hearing worrying reports from concerned members of the public, the industry itself and police," he said.

"I will therefore be asking my Executive colleagues to prioritise stronger legislation to deal with this issue. No wet bars should be open at this minute in time.

"The regulations we worked with Hospitality Ulster on allow a section of the hospitality sector to open. That guidance was very clear.

"What we're now seeing is the blatant disregard for those regulations and recommendations. It's a disregard for the guidance from their own industry.

"At the start we saw compliance, we had people working with us from within the industry and we had people following their own industry guidance.

"They realised the effect of not doing so was going to have an adverse effect on their own particular industry. I understand it has been a long six months, people are weary, Covid fatigue has set in.

"Some people may think the worst is over, that they no longer need guidelines. They are wrong.

"This is still the biggest public health crisis in a generation. Any complacency represents a serious challenge to us all.

"Some licenced premises are flouting the guideline which were put in place to protect their customers and staff."

It's now six months to the day since the first case of Covid-19 was announced and Mr Swann said Northern Ireland "has been living through a nightmare that goes on and on".

Following two recent Covid-19 outbreaks at Craigavon Hospital, the Minister told the briefing that further clusters at hospitals "are inevitable" and he warned that there will be a difficult winter ahead.

"We must stick together as a society," he said.

Belfast Telegraph