Nine licensed premises in Northern Ireland have been issued with prohibition notices for breaching coronavirus regulations.
The notices have all been issued since July 3rd, when restaurants and bars selling food were permitted to reopen in the North.
A prohibition notice requires a venue to stop the breach of the regulations identified by enforcement officers, and can mean closure until police are satisfied it can reopen safely.
Another 85 cases of Covid-19 were identified in Northern Ireland in the 24 hours to Friday, according to the North’s Department of Health (DoH). No new deaths were reported, leaving the total number of fatalities recorded by the department at 560.
The rolling seven-day average of new cases in Northern Ireland is now 431, according to the DoH, and the total number of cases identified since the beginning of the pandemic stands at 7,049.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said notices were issued to premises in Coleraine, Co Derry and Bangor, Co Down in July, as well as Moy, Co Tyrone, Banbridge, Co Down, and five in Co Fermanagh – in Rosslea, Tempo and Irvinestown – in August.
It is not clear whether the notices were issued to pubs, bars or restaurants, but the North’s first minister, Arlene Foster, tweeted that it was “disappointing to learn that five pubs had to be served with prohibition notices in Fermanagh.”
“Regulations are there for a reason. No one is above the rules,” the DUP leader said on Twitter. “Important to adhere [to the regulations] for the public health and safety of everyone.”
The North’s health minister, Robin Swann, is to ask the North’s Executive to “prioritise stronger legislation” after he said on Thursday he was concerned some licensed premises were “flouting” the coronavirus guidelines, though he said the majority were acting responsibly following the advice.
Both legally enforceable regulations – including the requirement to serve food and broader regulations around numbers – and coronavirus guidelines currently apply to the hospitality industry in the North.
Industry body Hospitality Ulster has recommended to the minister that guidance limiting late-night opening, music and dancing should be replaced with legislation. This would give businesses statutory protection when enforcing the rules and allow venues to remain open safely.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said police officers will continue to “work with licensees across Northern Ireland to ensure our community can socialise in a safe environment.
“Where appropriate, advice and guidance will be provided to ensure the continued safe and peaceful enjoyment of services,” he said.
“Our approach has always been engage, explain, encourage and enforcement with any emphasises on enforcement being fully considered with all our partners.”
Pubs and bars serving drinks only were due to reopen in the North on September 1st, but that has been postponed indefinitely due to concerns over the rising number of infections.
The chief executive of industry body Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, said nine prohibition notices in two months “in an industry of a couple of thousand” demonstrated there were a “limited” number of people acting irresponsibly.
“We do need the police and statutory bodies to have more enforcement powers to cover the areas of concern,” he said.
“Anyone that’s trying and making a mistake deserves to be helped, and anyone that’s blatantly ignoring the guidance – and, as we want it to be made legislation – deserves then to feel the weight of the law until they’re prepared to operate safely.”
According to figures published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) – which releases a weekly report each Friday – there were three deaths involving Covid-19 in the week ending August 21st.
The total number of fatalities involving coronavirus recorded by NISRA until August 21st was 871, almost 56 per cent higher than the number – 559 – recorded by the department in the same period.
Of these, 460 (52.8 per cent) took place in hospital, 351 (40.3 per cent) in care homes, eight (0.9 per cent) in hospices and 52 (6 per cent) at residential addresses or other locations.
The 359 deaths in care homes and hospices involved 81 separate establishments.
Northern Ireland produces two sets of data on coronavirus-related deaths. The department’s figures are based on patients who previously tested positive for the virus. The NISRA figures are based on information entered on death certificates by medical professionals, and there may or may not have been a previous positive test for coronavirus.