SWEEPING new powers will come into force across Northern Ireland tonight at 11pm to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The Executive has agreed to adopt the powers in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by COVID-19.
The powers compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.
Gatherings of more than two people are also banned.
Penalties ranging from fixed penalty notices to fines of up to £5,000 are being introduced to enforce the new powers under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “These are extraordinary powers for any government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times.
“We are asking the people of Northern Ireland to make fundamental changes to how they live their lives. But we are doing this to keep you safe, to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 infection so that the health service has the capacity to deal with those who need their help the most.
“We know the enormity of what we are asking of the public, but it is proportionate to the threat we all face from this deadly virus. No-one is immune.”
The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Protecting the public, supporting the health service and saving lives are the priorities for the Executive during this crisis.
“Each one of us has a personal responsibility to do everything we can to fight back against Covid-19 for the good of everyone across society. That’s why we are asking everyone to comply with the new measures being introduced today.
“As an Executive, we don’t want to get to the stage where people are being fined for being out when they should be at home. But if anyone – even after everything they have heard or seen over the last few weeks – still believes that this does not apply to them, then we will use every power we have to ensure people stay at home so that we save as many lives as we possibly can.”
The regulations list the types of business which will have to close and the types that will have to change their practices if they are to continue trading.
They do not impact directly on manufacturing or most of the service sector.