Families of coronavirus victims in Northern Ireland have criticised the “selfish” actions of those failing to socially distance as the death toll in region reached five.
The number of confirmed cases rose to 172 on a day when Assembly members voted to approve the introduction of sweeping powers to restrict people’s movement in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.
Brenda Doherty said her family was “devastated and heartbroken” by the death of her mother Ruth Burke.
The 82 year-old, who had an underlying health condition, died in Antrim Area Hospital on Tuesday night.
“To those of you who out there are being so selfish in gathering in packs – wise up,” she said.
“How selfish can you be?”
Ms Doherty said her mother was not just a statistic.
“She was a woman who had unbelievable strength and suffered many challenges in her life. Unfortunately this was one that she was not going to overcome.”
Joan Fulton, the sister of coronavirus victim Billy Allan – a 67-year-old from Newtownards who had a heart condition – had a similar message.
“That number had a face, and it’s the face of my brother Billy. My brother Billy is the number three person who has lost his life – yesterday morning at 3am – to this virus,” she told UTV on Tuesday evening.
“Why am I sharing this? Because this is the hardest journey I’ve ever been on.”
She added: “This virus is just ripping families apart. When my brother left his house on Friday night he thought he had a chest infection and he went into the hospital. I didn’t know, or the family didn’t know, we wouldn’t be seeing Billy again.
“We couldn’t be with Billy, we couldn’t say goodbye, we couldn’t be there, we can’t even be together to bury Billy.”
Ms Fulton criticised those failing to heed social distancing rules.
“Stop thinking about you, stop thinking about you,” she said.
“But think about others. This disease will kill many, if you don’t act properly – stay at home. That’s a simple message.”
On Tuesday afternoon, MLAs passed a legislative consent motion to approve the introduction of a range of new powers, tabled by the Government at Westminster, to prevent people gathering in numbers.
Later in the day, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the task of limiting the spread of coronavirus in the region is immense, but not impossible.
Urging people to stay at home, she told a daily Covid-19 news briefing at Parliament Buildings: “The challenge we face in slowing the progression of coronavirus is immense, but it is not impossible.
“We have the capacity to do it. It means accepting that life for now is not going to be the same as it has been. We’re all going to have to make sacrifices and limit our interaction with others by staying at home and that will require self-discipline, it will require patience, self-sacrifice, and a genuine community spirit as we adapt to our new temporary, and it will be temporary, way of life.”
Mrs Foster added: “If our society doesn’t take these steps this week, to limit the spread, our health service will come under unprecedented pressure and more lives will be lost than if we had taken the preventative measures.
“So it’s as simple as that. Please, wherever possible, stay at home. We have faced these many challenges before, we have overcome them and we’ve emerged stronger. So I believe we can overcome this particular challenge together.”
Stormont’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the coming days would be “crucial”.
“We are now at a crucial time in the fight against coronavirus,” she said.
“These new rules may seem very extreme, but they’re absolutely necessary if we’re going to be successful in slowing the spread of the virus.
“The scale of this approach reflects the gravity of the situation that we are faced with.
“These are very stringent measures in many ways, but they are vital – vital if our health service is going to be able to cope with the crisis and if we’re going to be successful in protecting our frontline health workers and, ultimately, our number one priority – to save lives.”