HEALTH Minister Robin Swann says police will focus enforcement action in so-called “hotspot areas” like Mid & East Antrim to curb the spread of coronavirus.
He made the announcement as he outlined new restrictions in response to a rise in cases.
From next week, indoor gatherings will drop from 10 to six people and outdoor meetings from 30 to 15.
Fifty-one new cases were reported on Thursday, with Northern Ireland’s total now at 6,556.
No further deaths have been recorded by the department, meaning its death toll remains at 559.
The executive met on Thursday to review the coronavirus regulations and Mr Swann – who is an Assembly Member for North Antrim – had earlier warned that in response to a tenfold rise in cases since the beginning of July, restrictions would need to be reimposed.
On Thursday he then announced that while the PSNI has been using enforcement as a last resort, certain council areas that have been experiencing a rise in cases need more attention.
He said: “The PSNI has assured me that it is taking and will continue to take enforcement action where necessary. I believe that it is particularly important in those districts which have seen sharp spikes in Covid-19 prevalence.
“So I can confirm that focused PSNI enforcement action will be directed at these hotspot areas in liaison with public health authorities and as part of a co-ordinated approach.”
Mid and East Antrim – where the minister lives in the Kells area – remains the district of Northern Ireland with the most new cases in the last seven days.
Mr Swann said his department continues to co-operate closely with the police on Covid-19 regulations.
Like colleagues across the UK, Mr Swann said, the PSNI approach is based on the 4 E’s – Engage, Explain, Encourage “and then enforce”.
Mr Swann said the vast majority of people want to do “the right thing” and enforcement was not needed in most cases and “should normally be a last resort”.
He said it was a “good news story” that widespread compliance with wearing face coverings in shops was being achieved “without a single fine so far” and the same could also be said for face coverings on public transport.
The Health Minister added: “However, there are concerns about indoor gatherings whether that be licensed premises or house parties”.
He added: “Sadly, through ignorance or self-centredness a small minority of people are flouting the regulations and putting themselves and others at risk.”
PSNI assistant chief constable Alan Todd was quoted in a media report as saying: “Our approach has always been engage, explain, encourage and enforcement with any emphasis on enforcement being fully considered with all our partners.
“With the changing picture in relation to Covid-19 we will continue to work closely with the Department of Health and other partner agencies to inform the most effective policing approach to keep people safe including enhanced resources in those areas identified as a priority.”