Northern Ireland police stepping up holiday spot patrols this Easter
Police are stepping up holiday spot patrols as they urged people to stay at home during an Easter like no other.
Popular car parks and sightseeing locations in Northern Ireland will be a particular focus.
The chief constable pledged to establish checkpoints to ask drivers where they are going and if necessary impose fines for non-compliance.
The coronavirus death toll is probably larger than the official figure of 82, Stormont ministers said, as they urged redoubled social distancing measures.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief Simon Byrne said: “This is a health crisis, it is not a holiday.
“This battle against the virus is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Nearly 100 community resolution notices have been issued so far.
One motorist was detected outside the Unesco World Heritage Giant’s Causeway site on the North Coast after driving 50 miles.
Across the Irish border, police have launched widespread check points to turn back people making unnecessary journeys to holiday homes.
Police in Northern Ireland faced questions about their own approach.
Mr Byrne said if people do not heed officers’ advice to go home they risked a fine.
The senior officer added: “From tomorrow we will be stepping up again, more police patrols and checkpoints on roads going to key resorts to talk to motorists and ask them where they are travelling.”
A move to the next level of enforcement – £60 fines – is looming.
Mr Byrne said: “Start your exercise at the front door. Stay home.
“You are not stuck in the house, you are saving lives by being inside.”
Around a tenth of police ranks are unavailable for work due to the impact of Covid-19 and recruit training has been fast-tracked, a Stormont committee was told.
First Minister Arlene Foster said by staying at home as much as they could, everybody could play their part in limiting the impact of Covid-19.
She added: “We cannot afford to relax our guard, especially now.
“Easter 2020 is going to be like no other.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said testing and isolation were key to success in defeating the virus.
“There has been progress made, it is nowhere near where it needs to be but it is moving in the right direction,” she said.
Meanwhile, there was an almost 50% jump in the number of house fires last month, officials have said, as more people stayed at home.
Statistics released by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service show that there were 101 accidental fires in homes across the province throughout March.
Elsewhere, a student nurse who stepped forward to help the NHS in its time of need has said her Antrim Area Hospital felt like a ghost town.
Alicia McCracken, 21, from North Belfast, described almost empty wards and people walking around in masks as healthcare workers braced for the coronavirus surge.
The surge in cases is expected this month.