Coronavirus: Police in N Ireland may face 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days

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Police in Northern Ireland may face 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days if coronavirus has a serious impact on staffing levels.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne stressed the potential impact of Covid-19 is very much unknown at this stage.

However, he revealed contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by the disease.

There are currently three cases in Northern Ireland.

The Chief Constable also revealed he is in discussions with Stormont’s Justice Department about securing bolstered powers to enable officers to detain affected people who might be unwilling to quarantine themselves.

He said he hoped powers handed to police in England could be replicated in Northern Ireland.

The comments came during a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board on Thursday.

Mr Byrne said in the event of Covid-19 impacting on staffing levels, they will consider bringing in 12-hour shifts and cancelling rest days to optimise staff levels, as well as focusing on hygiene at custody centres.

“It’s not a long-term solution but we can use it to boost the number of people available,” he said.

“At the moment we are not complacent, and we can use a lot of experience from operating at pace at different times, whether it is dealing with complex investigations or serious disorder to keep officers and staff available to work.

“The disease, whilst the dots on the map are increasing, hasn’t yet exploded into the country.

“We are following the advice about personal hygiene, clearly what I need to do with senior colleagues is make sure our preparedness is at its optimum, so we are looking at a range of scenario planning in terms of how we protect officers and staff.

“We also have to see how we will support all our staff through this difficult time because we are all dealing with uncertainty, see how we can get them back to work quickly when they fall ill.

“And also look to see how we mitigate some of the key pressure points, so for example custody centres sadly are often full of people but often people with already underlying health issues, so the risk of disease and transfer is probably more acute there, so how we are doing to ensure there is cleanliness and protection for both officers, staff and other people that work there from the risk of disease.”

Asked if he was concerned about the risk to law and order, he responded: “It’s easy to speculate some sort of scenes of a horror film where we are dealing with pandemic and virus, but at the moment our assumption is actually that as people fall ill, that will quieten down the calls for service from us.

“Our priority is to encourage people to remain calm through a period of uncertainty, we are all facing a unique experience maybe that we have not seen the like of for 100 years. But we need to keep officers and staff at work to protect you and also behave responsibly.”

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