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Stormont minister warns of crackdown as people flout advice on social distancing to battle coronavirus

The public has been warned not to be complacent amid fears people are flouting social distancing rules by gathering to play team sports and visiting beauty spots.

Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday also warned restrictions on movement may have to be tightened in the fight against coronavirus, stressing those who adhere to the lockdown are helping our health service.

"The importance of social distancing we cannot stress enough," he said at a daily press briefing on the coronavirus crisis.

"Complacency can be our biggest enemy at this minute in time because if people don't see the direct effect it is having today, they may think their actions aren't playing a part.

"They do, because your actions today will affect where our health service is in two weeks' time."

His plea was echoed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride who said that "complacency is our greatest challenge" in tackling the pandemic.

Mr Swann warned the public to expect an increased presence of police on our roads to ensure people are only making essential journeys ahead of the Easter holidays this weekend.

His warning came as police issued a directive against people driving to beauty spots on the PSNI Causeway and Coast Facebook page.

The post read: "Driving to your favourite beauty spot for daily exercise flaunts current guidelines.

"Please exercise near home and observe the rules please."

Mr Swann insisted that social distancing rules may need to become stricter in the coming weeks.

"What we have to get into people's heads and minds is that Covid-19 is in Northern Ireland and across the world for a very long time," he said.

"So these measures may have to be ramped up and they may have to be scaled back at various points as this virus progresses across Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, mayor of Derry and Strabane Michaela Boyle has added her voice to those calling for people to stay at home to save lives.

In Derry, some young people have been congregating at the council's playing pitches at Brandywell, Foyle Arena and Kilfennan.

The mayor said: "Unfortunately there have been a number of cases of groups gathering to play on these surfaces in recent days, often gaining access by climbing high walls and fences, which poses obvious dangers.

"I would appeal to our young people not to congregate and to limit your physical activity to a walk, run or cycle with members of your household once a day. The coming days and weeks will see the anticipated peak of cases of Covid-19 locally so I would urge you to protect the NHS and save lives by doing everything asked of you to reduce the spread of this highly contagious virus."

East Londonderry MLA Maurice Bradley also urged people thinking of heading to the coast this weekend to stay at home.

He said:"On the north coast we are blessed with some of the world's best scenery and walks, but please do not put yourself and others at risk

"Stay at home, do not visit your caravan or second home, it really is not worth it, your health and the health of others is much more important.

"All of these beautiful places will still be here when we get over this pandemic - now is not the time to visit."

Alliance Party Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong called for caravan site operators and holiday let owners to close over Easter.

Belfast Telegraph