Fresh restrictions imposed on Northern Ireland to try to curb the spread of Covid-19 have come into force, amid a political row over the four-week ‘circuit-breaker’.
There have been two more deaths and nearly 1,300 new cases in the last 24-hour reporting period as parts of the region struggle to get to grips with the virus.
The Belfast and Derry City and Strabane areas are among the worst affected.
However, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has caused controversy, saying his party is opposed to the new restrictions – restrictions the DUP voted for.
“If we keep doing these restrictions, we will cost tens of thousands of jobs – jobs which may never come back again,” he told UTV.
But while Mr Poots says he has “grave reservations” and does not agree with all the measures put in place, the leaders of Northern Ireland's five main parties, including the DUP, have issued a joint statement calling on everyone to get behind the effort to combat Covid-19.
The actions of every single person matter. We have four weeks to turn this around and we’re appealing to everyone to please get behind this effort to fight back against Covid-19 and save lives.
The joint statement from the DUP’s Arlene Foster, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, the UUP’s Steve Aiken, and the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long says the pandemic has reached “an alarming level” in Northern Ireland.
“The virus has taken a grip in our communities and it is spreading more every day. Our hospitals are in real danger of being overwhelmed,” they say.
“For those sectors facing temporary closure, we recognise the disruption and impact.
“We will work with the Northern Ireland Executive and Westminster Government to ensure the best supports are put in place to help those sectors recover.
As a society, however, we can all help those sectors by complying with the rules and driving down the spread of this disease.”
The joint statement adds: “Where people break the rules, we support the police and courts holding them responsible.
“The rules must be enforced firmly and fairly. No one and no community is above the law.”
Urging people to continue to practice social distancing and good hygiene around hand-washing, and to self-isolate if and when necessary, they noted: “These are difficult days.
“But it won’t last forever and we will get through it. Until we do, let’s all do everything we can to keep ourselves and each other safe.”