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Dublin officials to discuss tightening coronavirus travel restrictions with Northern Ireland Executive

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster.

AFP via Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster.

The government in the Republic of Ireland is to discuss tightening of its travel restrictions with the Northern Ireland Executive.

The cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 met on Monday to discuss long-term care facilities, testing and overseas travel including a tightening of travel restrictions at ports.

"Ireland needs to find a balance which allows the airports and ports to stay open," a statement said after the meeting, "in order to allow the movement of supplies, essential workers, and for Irish citizens to be able to return home, but which also minimises the risk of transmission of the virus, including the requirement for people arriving into Ireland to restrict their movements for 14 days.

The sub-committee discussed a range of options to see if there was a "better way" of achieving those objectives on travel.

"These will now be discussed further with cabinet, and with the administration in Northern Ireland, before a final decision is made," the statement added.

In March, when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a lockdown of schools and colleges as well as limits on public gatherings, First Minister Arlene Foster said it was "disappointing" the Executive was not informed ahead of the decision.

“We have had very good interaction, not only between ourselves at political level, but also at medical officer level, she said in a press conference alongside deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

"We were just made aware, I think, about 10 minutes before the statement was made by the Taoiseach. We did not know what the content of that statement was going to be."

Health authorities on either side of the border have been in near constant contact and have since signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus.

Michelle O'Neill has said it is not the time to talk about lifting restrictions in Northern Ireland and focus should be on people staying at home. The Stormont Executive is working on its options on lifting local restrictions.

On Monday the Republic reported its highest daily toll of deaths notified during the coronavirus outbreak, with 77 fatalities confirmed. Officials, however, stressed not all deaths occurred in the past 24 hours.

The total number of people with Covid-19 who have died in the country now stands at 687.

The current period of lockdown measures, which has forced the closure of many businesses and prevents people leaving their homes in all but limited circumstances, is due to expire on May 5.

The Taoiseach expressed concern that complacency around the Covid-19 restrictions was setting in.

Leo Varadkar also said he would not speculate about when Ireland would reopen.

"Certainly anecdotally and speaking to people, there does seem to have been an increase in traffic and an increase in people out and about," he said.

"It is OK for people to be out and about so long as they observe social distancing. It is OK for people to travel provided those journeys are necessary."

He said there was concern that there had been "a little bit of complacency setting in".

"That worries us because we are making real progress in terms of predicting the rate the virus is spreading and we don't want to lose that," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government will set out a road map about how Ireland will come out of lockdown but said he did not want to speculate about what restrictions would be lifted first.

He said: "What we're working on is a plan that we will have before the end of April.

"It would indicate how we reopen the country in different steps and the criteria for moving from one step to the next. Until then, I would rather not speculate or fuel expectations."

Meanwhile Business Minister Heather Humphreys said ROI firms should start to plan how they will come back when Covid-19 restrictions lift.

"The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) have drawn up a number of guidelines for retailers on how to manage social distancing and what they need to do," she told Ireland AM.

"There are also guidelines for manufacturing companies.

Belfast Telegraph