No plans to change Northern Ireland restrictions over Christmas

Concerns have risen in Northern Ireland about the rapid rate at which the Omicron variant is spreading in parts of Great Britain.
No plans to change Northern Ireland restrictions over Christmas

By Jonathan McCambridge, PA

There are no plans to change Covid regulations in Northern Ireland over the Christmas period, Paul Givan has said.

The DUP First Minister warned, however, that new hospitality restrictions introduced in the Republic of Ireland could lead to more people travelling across the border and said the Irish Government needed to “properly engage and communicate” with the Executive over changes to its regulations.

Concerns have risen about the rapid rate at which the Omicron variant is spreading in parts of Great Britain, where case numbers are doubling every two to three days.

Stormont Executive ministers met on Thursday to discuss the situation but recommended no changes to the current rules, instead emphasising the need for compliance with existing measures.

Coronavirus – Wed Nov 24, 2021
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride, has warned that more Covid restrictions may be introduced in January (Brian Lawless/PA)

However, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride, warned on Thursday that some Covid restrictions such as social distancing may need to be reintroduced in January.

Asked about whether the current restrictions were enough, Mr Givan said politicians were following advice received from health officials.

He said: “The travel of direction in England and in Scotland is moving at a different pace in Northern Ireland, so our health advice that we have is that the current measures in place are sufficient to get us through that Christmas period.

 

“Our plans will continue to operate on that basis, with the public working with us to have those levels of adherence that we need to see.

“But there are no plans to change what we are doing in the run-up to Christmas and through that period.”

Asked whether he would advise people to attend Christmas parties, the First Minister said: “We want to keep things open and to do things safely, so people should continue to make their plans now and in the run-up to Christmas, but to do it safely and to follow the public health advice around that.”

Last week new restrictions were announced for the hospitality sector in the Republic, including the closure of nightclubs.

Responding to concerns about different regulations on each side of the border, Mr Givan said: “It is a point that I have made around effective communication so that we know what is happening in the Republic of Ireland, so that when they take decisions around hospitality or the closure of their nightclubs, of course that can have a knock-on impact on the movement of people across the border.

Shared Island initiative
Paul Givan said he had spoken directly to the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, about communicating changes in regulations in the Republic of Ireland (Damien Storan/PA)

“I spoke directly to the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, and Simon Coveney last week about this because when they made changes to the Common Travel Area and people flying from Great Britain into Dublin, Northern Ireland was a back door because we weren’t being subjected to the same rules.

“I said to both individuals that that wasn’t good enough, that they hadn’t effectively communicated with the Northern Ireland Executive before that decision was made.

“That is why at the Executive we have called that the Irish Government need to be properly engaging and communicating, not just with the Northern Ireland Executive but with Scotland, Wales and England, because decisions which are taken within one jurisdiction in these islands does have a knock-on impact on others.”

Mr Givan said he would be taking part in a meeting of the Cobra committee on Friday to discuss the UK-wide response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

He added: “The Prime Minister has called a meeting of the Cobra committee. It is to share information in terms of the current data analysis which is taking place.

“Also what kind of policy responses would be considered and to have a greater joined-up approach across the United Kingdom.

“With the four-nations meeting that was held earlier in the week that Michael Gove chaired, both the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers were asking for a meeting of the Cobra committee. I supported them in that call, so I welcome that this has been escalated by the Prime Minister.”

Meanwhile, the deaths of a further two patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have been confirmed in Northern Ireland.

Another 1,806 cases of the virus were also notified.

On Friday morning there were 317 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 40 were in intensive care.

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