Northern Ireland brings in tough measures to fight coronavirus

Police officers wearing protective clothing are seen in Belfast as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

BELFAST (Reuters) – Northern Ireland will introduce “sweeping new powers” to combat the spread of coronavirus from 2300 GMT on Saturday, with many restrictions on businesses tougher than the rest of the United Kingdom.

The British region will prohibit anyone from leaving home without reasonable excuse, compel certain premises to shut and use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure employees’ safety, its devolved government said.

The number of coronavirus deaths in Northern Ireland rose by two to a total of 15 on Saturday, while 324 people had tested positive, the Public Health Agency said.

Ireland, which shares an open border with Northern Ireland, has so far reported 2,415 cases and 34 deaths. It ordered citizens on Friday to stay home until April 12, with most only able to leave to shop for groceries and for brief exercise.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered people to stay at home to try to slow the spread of the virus, saying they should only go out to shop for basic necessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or go to work where absolutely necessary.

The measures in Northern Ireland are tougher on employers, with the instruction that anyone who can work from home must work from home, and companies cannot compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the devolved government was asking the people of Northern Ireland to make fundamental changes to how they lived their lives.

“These are extraordinary powers for any Government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times,” she said.

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