Northern Ireland coronavirus restrictions ‘working’

Northern Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions are working, a power-sharing minister has said.

The projected worst-case scenario of 1,500 deaths during the early part of the pandemic is significantly reduced from the toll envisaged weeks earlier.

Stormont Assembly members debated the Health Protection Coronavirus Restrictions NI 2020 on Tuesday.

Executive Office junior minister Declan Kearney said: “The regulations are working and that credit belongs to all of us who are making the sacrifice.

“Our health service is more than holding its own.”

He added that the regulations are still needed.

“I never thought I’d be putting forward regulations such as these.

“They are in place to protect people.

“If we relaxed the restrictions, we would be failing ourselves if we did so at this time.”

He said people are permitted to drive to exercise, such as to a nearby park, where it is reasonable to do so.

But he added: “A leisurely, long drive to a resort or a beauty spot must now be off limits for this time.”

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said there is a difference of opinion within Stormont’s Executive about when the decision should be taken to reopen cemeteries.

Mr Kearney told the Assembly: “I and Executive colleagues understand how difficult it is that members of our families, friends and community are being denied solace which moments of reflection at gravesides can provide, but that is the price we must pay.

“We have not beaten Covid-19. No other interest can take primacy over our public health.”

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said social distancing is not being fully adhered to in supermarkets, while the “heart-wrenching” bar on visiting graves continues.

He said grieving is the most natural human condition.

Mr Nesbitt added: “The minister said it is a price we must pay; I don’t think it is.”

DUP Assembly member Pam Cameron said those organising republican funerals are not above the law.

Concerns have been expressed about the lack of social distancing at a number of funeral processions in recent weeks.