Covid-19: Stay-at-home order in NI comes into force

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New lockdown restrictions forbidding people from leaving home for non-essential reasons have come into force across Northern Ireland.

The Stormont executive agreed the move earlier this week in order to control the spread of Covid-19.

It means people can be ordered home by the police if they do not have a "reasonable excuse" for being out.

The law will remain in place until 6 February but will be reviewed later this month.

Northern Ireland is in the second week of a six-week lockdown, with the reproductive rate of the virus - known as the R-number - sitting at about 1.8.

The Belfast Health Trust has cancelled all of its urgent cancer surgery and some trusts have started to cancel operations due to pressures on the system caused by coronavirus.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said people would "notice an increase in visible policing" with the tighter lockdown restrictions in place.

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image captionThe PSNI has been given powers to direct people home

However, speaking on the BBC's The View programme, she said: "What we don't want to do is create a climate where people who make minor errors end up being fined.

"There will be enforcement - I'm not saying enforcement is off the table.

"Ultimately it's about personal responsibility and we have to drive that message home - enforcement should be the last option we take."

What are the new lockdown rules?

The stay-at-home order became legally enforceable at 00:01 GMT on Friday.

People can only leave home for a limited number of reasons, which include for medical or food needs, exercise and work that cannot be done from home.

Those found to have breached the rules can be issued with a £200 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £5,000 if the case goes to court.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been given additional powers by the executive to direct people home who are engaging in prohibited activity.

Other restrictions have also taken effect on how people can meet up during the lockdown.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings have been reduced from 15 people to six from only two households.

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image captionExercise outdoors with one person from another household is permitted

Children under 12 are included in the total but there are exemptions for those who have formed support bubbles.

People are no longer allowed to meet with other households in private gardens, although similar exemptions apply there too.

However, people are allowed to take exercise outdoors with one person from another household.

There is an advisory exercise limit of 10 miles (16km), the justice minister said.

She said the executive had decided it was "not proportionate" at this stage to make the limit legally enforceable.

Northern Ireland's main church denominations are to cease public worship until early February.

Church leaders have said they understand the very serious position Northern Ireland is in due to Covid-19.

Will click-and-collect services be allowed?

The executive is to take further advice about whether to change the rules on click-and-collect services for non-essential retail.

The issue was raised at Friday's executive meeting as small independent retailers have complained the rules are damaging their business.

Essential businesses such as supermarkets can still provide a click-and-collect service.

It is understood ministers agreed to allow the Covid-19 taskforce set up by the executive time to examine the issue in more detail and around strengthening compliance in retail settings.

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