The First Minister has today announced an extension of settings where face coverings are now mandatory and a new regime of higher penalties for those who breach coronavirus regulations.

In the Northern Ireland Executive's Covid-19 Press Conference this afternoon (October 8), First Minister Arlene Foster, accompanied by Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill announced that today the Executive made a number of decisions to help strengthen the current Covid-19 interventions to "increase their effectiveness and try to curb the spread of the virus".

Mrs. Foster stated that the settings where face coverings must be worn has now been extended. She outlined that in addition to public transport, retail and hospitality environments, face coverings are now mandatory when boarding a plane, in taxis and private buses. They must be worn when visiting government offices such as benefit offices and banks, building societies and credit unions. Both driving instructors and their clients should also wear face coverings.

"These are mandatory requirements but I would encourage everyone to wear a face covering in any setting where social distancing is not possible, where there are large crowds, where ventilation is poor, or if you're in a confined space for a long period of time. That's simply common sense," Mrs. Foster added.

She went on to state that from today, the consequences for people who choose to ignore health regulations will be "more serious".

"Today, the Executive has agreed a new regime of penalties. The existing fixed penalty notices for breaches of the regulations which started at £60, doubling up thereafter will instead be replaced by a single tariff of £200 for a fixed penalty notice. Three other offences will be punishable on conviction by a fine of up to £10,000 or attract a fixed penalty notice starting at £1,000 pounds, and then laddering up to a maximum of £10,000. The first of these is not closing a business as required under the regulations, and there are two other new offences we are introducing, these are breaching the early closing requirements for hospitality and secondly, not implementing measures to maintain social distancing," said Mrs. Foster.

She explained that the Justice Minister and the Executive are also giving further consideration to an offence relating to organising a large gathering, or an unlicensed event as applies in England and Wales.

"Now it will always be our preference, rather than enforce penalties, that people would listen, and work with us to support our shared effort to save lives so the strategic enforcement group led by our Junior Ministers are bringing together a range of partners, including business and civic leaders, along with those with responsibility for enforcement to try and develop a joint programme of work that will support people to do the right thing," stated the First Minister.