Cases of domestic violence could soar under social isolation measures brought in to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, local charities have warned.
Frontline service providers believe self-isolation could be dangerous for women or men trapped with their abuser, whose behaviour may be aggravated by the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic.
Campaigners also warned that the safe provision of life-saving domestic abuse shelters was at risk due to employees catching the virus and being forced to self-isolate.
Education Minister Peter Weir expressed concerns about the impact of social isolation.
He said there could be major problems in terms of mental health and warned that there was a "real danger we will see domestic violence go through the roof".
"There is a tsunami of major problems society is going to face because of this," the DUP MLA explained.
Brenda Kelly, CEO of Nexus NI, a charity that provides support to victims of sexual violence, was keen to stress that the group's helpline remained open for anyone affected by domestic or sexual abuse.
"We know that this is a stressful and difficult time. If anyone is experiencing or has concerns about domestic or sexual abuse, we are here to help," she said. "We want to reassure people that our helpline is still operating 24/7 and can provide free and confidential support to anyone who needs it."
A spokesperson for Women's Aid said refuges forced to lock down and stop taking referrals because of the virus may need extra financial support because they would no longer be receiving the same amount of rent.
"Self-isolation is likely to shut down routes to support and safety for women, who may face even greater barriers to finding time away from the perpetrator to seek help," she added.
"We know that refuge services, which are often communal forms of accommodation, will already be preparing for women and children contracting the virus while living there, ensuring that they can self-isolate from other residents. We urge the national and local government to take swift action to ensure that survivors who are facing barriers to support (get help)
"(They) may be sleeping rough or sofa-surfing as a result, or (they may be) forced to isolate with the perpetrator.
"(They should be) provided with opportunities and supported to find suitable, safe, self-contained accommodation where they can self-isolate."
PSNI figures show that 31,682 domestic abuse incidents were recorded in the 2018/19 financial year.
Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally, from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said an upsurge in domestic violence cases was a real risk.
"During these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that people will be spending more time at home or in a domestic setting, which will at times create potentially stressful situations," he added.
"I would appeal for people to remain calm during this time and reassure victims of domestic abuse that help is always available. Please speak out so you can help to stop it happening.
"As the police service, it is our job to keep people safe. Our role is about prevention, protection and prosecution - to prevent further violence, to protect the victim, children and other vulnerable people and to facilitate the prosecution of offenders.
"Domestic abuse is a crime and until victims are aware there is a safe environment to share their concerns, they will continue to hold on to the secret of domestic abuse. Anyone who is suffering can contact police on the non-emergency 101 number or 999 in an emergency."
Help is also available through the following support services:
÷ Nexus NI, Belfast: 02890 326803; Enniskillen: 02866 320046; http://nexusni.org
÷ The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Abuse Helpline: 0808 802 1414
÷ The Rowan Centre free phone helpline: 0800 389 4424 and www.therowan.net
÷ Victim Support NI, Belfast: 02890 243133; Foyle: 02871 370086
÷ Men's Advisory Project, Belfast: 02890 241929; Foyle: 02871 160001.