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PSNI will be more visible across Northern Ireland to prevent Covid violations

Public and businesses warned to adhere to rules as restrictions eased

Police officers and Covid compliance ambassadors will make their presence felt across Northern Ireland's towns and cities in the run up to Christmas.

As retail and hospitality reopened for business on Friday after the two week circuit-breaker restrictions, the PSNI urged people to put safety first.

Shops, close contact services and the hospitality sector were closed under lockdown measures aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.

Cinemas, museums, galleries and gyms have reopened too while normal church services also resumed, with more people allowed to attend weddings and funerals.

However, pubs that do not serve food will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

As revealed by the Belfast Telegraph on Friday, Belfast City Council health and safety staff have been given powers of enforcement to clamp down on Covid-19 offenders, including fines of up to £10,000 for retailers falling foul of the rules.

Other councils in Northern Ireland are likely to follow suit.

Speaking as shoppers and diners descended on Belfast city centre on Friday, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said the public can "expect to see more police officers in more places more of the time".

"You will also see us working in partnership with local councils and their ambassadors to try and keep the environment as safe for people as they can and allow businesses that are open to conduct their business as safely as possible," he said.

"The more help we can get in that space from all partners, to get that message out and remind people on a daily basis what the safety precautions are, we welcome that," ACC Todd.

Meanwhile, Stormont leaders have defended the decision to relax restrictions at a time when Northern Ireland's daily Covid-19 death and infection numbers remain stubbornly high.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he would have liked to have seen stricter Covid restrictions in force ahead of Christmas.

Mr Swann was speaking as he accompanied First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill on a visit to a coronavirus contact tracing facility in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

"From a health point of view of course we would have liked to have seen, I suppose, stricter (restrictions)," Mr Swann said.

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Health Minister Robin Swann said he would have liked to have seen stricter Covid restrictions in force ahead of Christmas

Health Minister Robin Swann said he would have liked to have seen stricter Covid restrictions in force ahead of Christmas

PA

Health Minister Robin Swann said he would have liked to have seen stricter Covid restrictions in force ahead of Christmas

"But I am content that there's enough guidance out there if people follow them, follow the rules and regulations that we have actually set down, that we can keep this virus under control, we can stop the spread of Covid throughout our community in Northern Ireland."

But Mr Swann said a further tightening of restrictions would be needed in January in response to the anticipated rise in infections as a result of the festive season relaxations.

"How severe and how strict that is will depend on people's actions over the next two to three weeks," he added.

Justifying Friday's reopening, Mrs Foster said the fact the reproduction rate of the virus had dropped to "around one" had given the Executive the "headroom" to proceed with the reopenings.

Ms O'Neill added that the decision to lift some of the restrictions reflected the need to balance public health and economic concerns.

Mrs Foster also urged the public to "exercise personal responsibility" and "make good choices" while Ms O'Neill called for people not to be "reckless".

The head of Hospitality Ulster has asked those who will be going out this weekend to be extra vigilant, obey the rules, and be kind to staff.

Colin Neill, said: "We need everyone to help. Business owners who have invested so much time, effort and money to get reopened want people to have a good time, but we need everyone to abide by the rules.

"We'd also like to ask people to be kind to staff who are there to provide that quality experience but also to keep everyone as safe as they can be," Mr Neill added.

Belfast Telegraph


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