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Social distancing may be enforced, warns Northern Ireland’s First Minister

Police have received reports of young people congregating despite the Covid-19 threat.

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Northern Ireland may have to enforce social distancing, First Minister Arlene Foster warned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland may have to enforce social distancing, First Minister Arlene Foster warned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland may have to enforce social distancing, First Minister Arlene Foster warned (Liam McBurney/PA)

Social distancing may have to be enforced in Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster has warned.

Police have received reports of young people continuing to congregate despite being advised against it amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Emergency legislation to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to finish its passage through the Houses of Parliament on Monday.

The DUP leader told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show: “There will be legislation which will allow us to enforce social distancing and enforce all of these matters and of course one does not want to have to go down that road, but really it appears that in some cases we are going to have to enforce it.”

The First Minister also said private hospitals will be asked to help in the battle against coronavirus.

She and Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged people to stay apart on Mother’s Day, as they praised those working on the front-line of the battle against the infection.

Mrs Foster said Sunday is normally a day when children of all ages say thank-you to their mothers, but this year things are “very different”.

Mrs O’Neill said: “Everyone loves their mummy. I know that I do.

“And on Mother’s Day, we normally make a big effort to spoil them and to spend time with them.

“This year we have to do it differently.

“This year we are asking you not to put your mummy or anyone else’s mummy at risk.

“Please maintain the social distancing the Public Health Agency have asked you to do.

“Please follow that public health advice, help protect yourself and help protect others.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Rugby has offered used of its Kingspan Stadium in Belfast for drive-through virus testing or other community services, chief executive Jonny Petrie said.

Ulster GAA and the Irish Football Association have made the same gesture with venues across Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland recorded its biggest daily increase in cases on Saturday, and a senior Belfast doctor warned huge numbers of patients will die during the pandemic.

A teacher from Londonderry working in the locked down city of Bergamo in northern Italy said the crematoriums there are full and he described the sound of mourning church bells.

Fionnuala Crabtree urged residents in her home city to observe the public health advice.

Elsewhere, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to support all workers affected by the virus.

He said: “I very much welcome the announcement of a scheme to subsidise the payroll costs of businesses. This has reassured many people that their jobs and livelihoods will be sustained during this unprecedented health crisis.

“However many workers, including sole traders, the self-employed, people on zero-hour contracts and agency workers fall outside the scope of the scheme.

“This is causing huge anxiety and I urge you to take urgent action to support them also.”

PA