Rebecca Black and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Stormont ministers have agreed to scrap self-isolation guidance for travel within the UK and Ireland.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described progress having been made over movement within the common travel area during Thursday’s meeting of the Executive.
“We’re going to drop the self isolation, so you’ll no longer have to self isolate when travelling across these islands,” she told media in Coalisland.
“We’re obviously still encouraging common sense, we’re encouraging people to only travel if you need to, and we would also want people to not travel if they have any symptoms, and we’ll also ask people to take lateral flow tests.
“That will allow a bit more travel across the common travel area.”
Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill said the decision to allow competitive indoor sport to return from May 31 was confirmed.
She said ministers had noted good progress in the pandemic, and that recent relaxations to the Covid-19 regulations have not made a “significant impact” in terms of a rise in cases of the virus.
Thursday saw the ninth consecutive day of no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for the virus.
There have been no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, and fewer than 100 new cases (84).
Earlier it was announced that the vaccination programme has opened for everyone aged 18 and over.
More than one million people in the region have now had at least one dose of the vaccine – over 70% of the adult population – and more than 625,000 (over 40%) have received two doses.
Ms O’Neill hailed encouraging progress with the vaccine programme.
“I’m so delighted that we’re now able to offer the vaccine to every adult, everyone over the age of 18, and I certainly encourage anyone of that age category to get online and book, and bear with it, if you can’t get in there will be able batch of appointments announced next week,” she said.
“That is what is helping us get to the other side of this, that is what is going to bring us out of the end of this dark tunnel.”
Health Minister Robin Swann earlier welcomed the programme’s extension to all adults.
“I know this will be very welcome news for young people who have been waiting patiently for their turn to get the jab,” he said.
“Today’s announcement is another important milestone in the drive to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can, so that we can see a return to normality.
“The tremendous success of the vaccination programme has brought great hope and has helped to enable the recent further easing of restrictions.
“The expansion of the vaccination programme, well ahead of schedule, to everyone aged 18 and over is testament to the hard work and dedication of all those involved in delivering the vaccine throughout Northern Ireland.”
From Thursday, anyone aged under 40 can book their vaccination at a trust centre in order to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: “I know that many young people will be very keen to book their jab now that they’re eligible for vaccination.
Northern Ireland chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride (Liam McBurney/PA)
“It’s important to understand that while the risk of severe disease is lower in young people, some may become very ill and, of course, they can pass on the virus to others who may be more vulnerable.
“We’re dealing with the emergence of new variants and we all have a part to play in keeping each other safe.
“I would urge everyone aged 18 and over to book a slot for vaccination, including those in older age groups who have not yet stepped forward.”