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Portrush and Portstewart crowds forced us to look at tougher Covid rules, warns Arlene Foster

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Visitors crowding into Portstewart at the weekend

Visitors crowding into Portstewart at the weekend

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd

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Visitors crowding into Portstewart at the weekend

The Executive was forced to consider tougher lockdown measures as a consequence of the crowds that descended on the north coast at the weekend, First Minister Arlene Foster said yesterday.

Day trippers flocked to Portrush and Portstewart despite the Covid-19 regulations discouraging non-essential travel.

Photographs showed maskless visitors queued up outside takeaways as bumper to bumper traffic choked the famous strand along Portstewart.

Meanwhile, the PSNI said almost 100 house parties were broken up by officers over the last week despite strict rules against indoor gatherings.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Speaking prior to last night's emergency Executive meeting, Mrs Foster said she regretted seeing the images of the crowds along the Causeway Coast.

"I had hoped that we weren't going to be in this place," said the First Minister.

"We had said that none of this was inevitable but I think we've all seen some of the gatherings over the Christmas period. Just today I was sent photographs of Portstewart and Portrush. There were huge crowds gathering together and I really regret that because we have very difficult decisions to take tonight as a consequence of that."

She added that the Executive was planning to speak with the PSNI last night to see what more could be done in terms of enforcing the health regulations. "In terms of compliance, I think I've indicated that I have been disappointed with some of the actions which I've seen people be involved in," said Mrs Foster.

"At present, the message is very much stay at home. In March of last year we had the situation where you could only leave your home for reasonable reasons that were in legislation so we'll be looking at a whole range of issues that will be before us tonight." The DUP leader also described the rapid spread of the virus as a "very dire situation".

"The advice coming to us is that we will need to take action and we'll need to take action very quickly," added Mrs Foster.

The PSNI said it had issued 339 £200 fines for breaches of the coronavirus regulations in the last week.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said it is "really disappointing to see that there are still people not taking the risk of this virus seriously".

"Enforcement action was taken by officers right across Northern Ireland over the past week issuing 339 Cov4 fines of £200, 96 Cov2 prohibition notices were issued in respect of house parties, and seven Cov5 penalty notices were also issued in respect of businesses continuing to operate in breach of the regulations," he said.

"It is vital that people take the time to understand what is and is not permitted under the new regulations and to take personal responsibility for stopping the spread of this virus.

"We will continue with our partnership approach, working closely with our colleagues at the Department of Health, Public Health Agency and the Northern Ireland Executive.

"Where people do not follow the Health Protection Regulations, our approach will remain the same - we will engage with people first explaining the guidance and the law and encourage people to do the right thing.

"However, where we are left with no choice but to enforce, we will take this measure in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities and help protect our NHS."

Belfast Telegraph


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