Tougher fines for breaches of coronavirus laws are among proposals the Northern Ireland Executive will be asked to approve when ministers meet on Thursday.
Justice Minister Naomi Long has been carrying out a review of the penalties.
The plans would see Northern Ireland’s fines comparable with other jurisdictions like England, where the minimum fixed penalty notice is £200.
Currently, fines in NI start at £60 but can rise to £960 for repeat offenders.
People in Northern Ireland can also be fined £1,000 for failing to self-isolate – that is lower than in England, where the fine can be as high as £10,000.
Last week, First Minister Arlene Foster had warned that “tougher penalties are coming”, in a sign the executive wants to take a harder stance on those who flout the rules.
On Wednesday evening, Health Minister Robin Swann told the BBC’s Nolan Show: “If the penalty for not wearing a face covering is not enough to get people to do it, then we have to increase that penalty.”
He said ministers would have to “step up enforcement” which would require the involvement of police and “our entire justice system getting behind the health messaging that we need people to follow”.
Mr Swann suggested that council environmental health officers may also be involved in the enforcement of face coverings in shops.
He added that he wanted to encourage the retail sector to “step up and take some ownership of this”.
Face coverings in workplaces?
It is believed ministers will also discuss extending the use of mandatory face coverings to other settings at Thursday’s executive meeting.
They are also expected to explore the possibility of extending tighter local restrictions to the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area.
However, it is believed they could stop short of imposing the measures on Thursday, instead keeping the situation across Northern Ireland under daily review between now and Monday.
On Wednesday, Northern Ireland Chief Scientific Adviser Prof Ian Young said of the coronavirus clusters identified, more than half of them had been linked to the hospitality sector.
Stormont ministers have not ruled out bringing in a circuit breaker over the half-term holidays, if localised restrictions do not help to halt the rise in infections.
A circuit breaker is a lockdown for a short period of time, possibly two weeks, to slow the spread of the virus.
It would likely see all pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland forced to close for the two weeks.
But on Wednesday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said it would only be viable with additional financial support from Westminster.
It is thought there could be further announcements next week from the Treasury about providing support to the hospitality industry in the worst hit areas of England, where pub closures are being explored.
That could automatically lead to some extra funding for Northern Ireland through what is known as a Barnett consequential.