Northern Ireland news

Robin Swann warns those flouting social distancing rules they could 'ruin any hopes of further relaxation of lockdown'

Beaches across the north have been packed with visitors in recent days. Picture by Stephen Davison

STORMONT health minister Robin Swann has warned those flouting social distancing rules that they could "ruin any hopes of further relaxation of the lockdown".

Mr Swann last night also said he believed the "compliance with the restrictions and social distancing measures is starting to fray".

It comes after thousands of people descended on popular coastal areas in recent days.

At beaches in north Down alone, police said an estimated 1,000 people gathered in Crawfordsburn and Helen’s Bay, with a crowd of around 200 young people among those to flout social distancing guidelines on Monday evening.

Parts of the picturesque north coast have also been crowded, while there were similar reports in the Mourne Mountains at the weekend.

Police yesterday stepped up patrols at beauty spots across the north and called on the public not to visit popular areas as social distancing may not be possible.

In the daily coronavirus briefing last night, Mr Swann said "whilst the vast majority of people are continuing to do the right thing, it does appear that for some people, the compliance with the restrictions and social distancing measures is starting to fray".

A crowd of around 200 young people gathered at Crawfordsburn on Monday

"Our battle against Covid-19 is finely balanced, yes we have made important progress against it, we have flattened the curve and saved many lives," he said.

"As a result of that immense effort we have started the effort of cautiously and edging out of lockdown, but we are still at a very early and tentative stage of that process

"It wouldn't take that much to tip the reproductive spread of the virus over the all important one figure.

"I'd also remind people that this is not an extended public holiday.

"Covid-19 remains a deadly and highly infectious virus, so please don't flout the public health guidance, please don't think this is all over because that type of complacency will undo the progress we have all achieved so far.

"It would ruin any hopes of further relaxation of the lockdown, I know people are enjoying the small freedoms that have been returned to them in recent weeks but with those freedoms come more responsibility."

In a message to young people, Mr Swann said he accepted they had "put their lives on hold, mainly for the older generations".... but "this could be a matter of life or death for you or someone you love".

Politicians have also blasted those gathering on beaches for dismantling coronavirus progress.

Speaking in the assembly yesterday DUP junior minister Gordon Lyons described how the "stupid and irresponsible actions of a few" risk the progress made in Northern Ireland in tackling Covid-19.

"They are disturbing local residents," he said.

"They are being abusive to others and they are getting into fights. This is unacceptable.

"And not only are they being involved in these sorts of activities, they are leaving litter behind as well, but they could be picking up something as well, they could of course be picking up the virus.

"But the stupid and irresponsible actions of a few have the potential to threaten the progress we have made and that's an impact on all of us will then feel.

"I want to say to the young people and the others that have been breaking these rules, help us to help you."

Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan also said there was a growing misperception among members of the public that the danger of coronavirus had passed.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said he visited Crawfordsburn on Monday following calls from residents in the area where around 200 young people were gathered "in clear breach of the regulations", which only allow up to six people to meet outdoors.

He said some were "clearly intoxicated" and he spotted at least one person taking drugs.

Mr Muir added that it was not just young people who visited the area, with the "volume of people coming down to these beauty spots and these beaches is overwhelming local neighbourhoods".

One Helen's Bay resident, who did not wish to be named, said the level of noise in the area over the last four nights had been unbearable.

She said one teenage girl had defecated on the beach, close to houses, and other teenagers were urinating over the area.

"It's been like a rave in Ibiza," she said.

"These kids get off the train at Helen's Bay and walk along Church Road along Helen's Bay beach to Crawfordsburn - to the grass area."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news