Sweeping new powers to combat the spread of the coronavirus will come into force in Northern Ireland at 11pm tonight.

They will compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.

Gatherings of more than two people will also be banned.

Penalties ranging from fixed penalty notices to fines of up to £5,000 are being introduced to enforce the new powers.

Two further people with coronavirus have died in Northern Ireland today, taking the region's death toll to 15.

There were 49 new positive cases of Covid-19 reported, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Northern Ireland to 324, according to the Public Health Agency.

In the Republic, 14 more people died from Covid-19 and 294 new cases have been diagnosed today.

The emergency regulations bring Northern Ireland into line with restrictions announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Stormont Executive said it has agreed to adopt the powers in response to "the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by Covid-19".

"These are extraordinary powers for any government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times," said First Minister Arlene Foster.

"We are asking the people of Northern Ireland to make fundamental changes to how they live their lives.

"But we are doing this to keep you safe, to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 infection so that the health service has the capacity to deal with those who need their help the most.

"We know the enormity of what we are asking of the public, but it is proportionate to the threat we all face from this deadly virus. No one is immune."

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Around 80% of cases of Covid-19 will be a mild to moderate illness, close to 14% have severe disease and around 6% are critical.

Generally, you need to be 15 minutes or more in the vicinity of an infected person, within 1-2 metres, to be considered at-risk or a close contact.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said everyone has a personal responsibility to do everything they can to fight back against Covid-19, and warned that action will be taken against anyone who fails to comply.

"As an Executive, we don’t want to get to the stage where people are being fined for being out when they should be at home," she said.

"But if anyone - even after everything they have heard or seen over the last few weeks - still believes that this does not apply to them, then we will use every power we have to ensure people stay at home so that we save as many lives as we possibly can."

Health Minister Robin Swann said the emergency regulations are an essential component of the strategy to tackle the pandemic and will ensure a consistent approach across the four regions of the UK.

"The extreme disruption to normal life would have been unthinkable just a few short weeks ago," he added.

"It is a price we all have to pay, to protect each other and the health service.

"Everyone has to take personal responsibility for their actions and to stick rigidly to these restrictions for as long as they are needed. It is a matter of life and death."

The Executive has also agreed that:

Anyone who can work from home must work from home;

Employers must facilitate working from home where it is feasible;

No employer should compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home;

Every employer must take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of employees during the Covid-19 emergency, whether working from home or in the workplace;

Every employer must have particular regard to the safety of employees in the workplace and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy;

Every employer has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees;

Where a business is failing to observe the guidance and breaching the legal duty on health and safety, the statutory authorities will take robust action, which may include prosecution for criminal offences.

Where necessary, the Executive Office will also use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure the safety of their employees.

Coronavirus testing in the region is expected to be significantly stepped up to 1,100 a day from next week but concerns persist that the rate is still lagging well behind testing regimes introduced in other countries battling the virus.